One of the Tennessee Democrats who was removed last week by the Republican-dominated state House said Sunday that GOP lawmakers have threatened county officials with funding cuts in an effort to deter them from voting to reinstate the expelled representative.
"I would be honored to accept the appointment of the Shelby County Commission," former state Rep. Justin Pearson said of the local body that is set to meet on Wednesday to decide who will fill the empty seat until a special election is held. Pearson told NBC News on Sunday that he intends to run in the special election triggered by his widely condemned expulsion, which stemmed from his participation in a gun control protest on the state House floor following a school shooting in Nashville.
The Memphis Democrat said he has "heard that people in the state legislature and in Nashville are actually threatening our Shelby County commissioners to not reappoint me, or they're going to take away funding that's in the government's budget for projects that the mayor and others have asked for."
"This is what folks really have to realize," said Pearson. "The power structure in the state of Tennessee is always wielding against the minority party and people."
Late last week, Shelby County Commissioner Erika Sugarmon told local reporters that members of the body are "being threatened by the state to take away funding, needed funding to run our schools, to run our municipalities."
"This is about bullying people into submission. And enough is enough," said Sugarmon. "We've got to stand for something or fall for everything. And we've been bullied by the state for too long now."
It's unclear whether Pearson has enough support among the 13 Shelby County commissioners to win reinstatement ahead of the coming special election.
Mickell Lowery, the chair of the commission, said in a statement Sunday that "the protests at the state Capitol by citizens recently impacted by the senseless deaths of three nine-year-old children and three adults entrusted with their care at their school was understandable given the fact that the gun laws in the state of Tennessee are becoming nearly nonexistent."
"It is equally understandable that the leadership of the state House of Representatives felt a strong message had to be sent to those who transgressed the rules," said Lowery. "However, I believe the expulsion of State Representative Justin Pearson was conducted in a hasty manner without consideration of other corrective action methods. I also believe that the ramifications for our great state are still yet to be seen."
"Coincidentally, this has directly affected me as I too reside in State House District 86," he continued. "I am amongst the over 68,000 citizens who were stripped of having a representative at the state due to the unfortunate outcome of the State Assembly's vote. Therefore, the Shelby County Board of Commissioners will consider the action to reappoint Mr. Justin Pearson to his duly elected position to represent the citizens in District 86 for the State of Tennessee House of Representatives in a special called meeting on Wednesday, April 12, 2023 at 1:30 PM."
Rep. Justin Jones, a Nashville Democrat who was expelled along with Pearson for showing solidarity with demonstrators on the state House floor, reportedly has the support of a majority of the Nashville Metropolitan Council members expected to convene Monday to vote on the removed lawmaker's reinstatement.
Jones warned last week that Tennessee House Republicans could refuse to seat him and Pearson if they are reappointed or if they win a special election.
In his NBC appearance on Sunday, Jones said the resounding national response to his and Pearson's expulsion makes clear that the Tennessee GOP's "attack on democracy will not go on unchallenged."
"The Tennessee House Republicans' attempt to crucify democracy has instead resurrected a movement led by young people to restore our democracy, to build a multiracial coalition," Jones said. "We will continue to fight for our constituents."