One of two Tennessee Democrats who were expelled from the state House by Republican colleagues over gun protests used his final floor remarks to call out other members of the chamber who went unpunished for more extreme conduct - including an “admitted child molester.”
Justin Jones, 27, and two Democratic colleagues Gloria Johnson and Justin Pearson were targeted in an expulsion resolution in the Republican-controlled House on Thursday night. Both Mr Jones and Mr Pearson were ousted with two-thirds in favour of the resolution, while Ms Johnson survived the vote.
The dramatic and surprising act of retaliation came in response to the Democrats’ gun control protests following the deadly shooting at Nashville’s Covenant School last week. Tensions reached a boiling point when they joined the interruption of legislature on the House floor wherein demonstrators chanted “no action, no peace” with a bullhorn.
Before the expulsion vote took place, Mr Jones approached the podium to give his last speech as the state representative for District 52, using his time to point out several other lawmakers with questionable histories.
“Let’s talk about expulsion,” Mr Jones, who was elected last November, said calmly. “For years, one of your colleagues, who was an admitted child molester, sat in this chamber- no expulsion.”
Mr Jones was referring to former state representative David Byrd who was accused of sexually abusing three underage girls while he was a high school basketball coach.
Mr Byrd denied these allegations, though one of his accusers recorded him apologising to her and saying, “I’ve lived with that and you don’t know how hard it has been for me.”
Despite several calls for Mr Byrd to retire, including one from Governor Bill Lee, Mr Byrd sought re-election and won in 2020. Mr Byrd only left the Tenneesse House after being severely ill from Covid-19.
Mr Jones continued his speech by calling one member out for alleged domestic violence, another for being under federal investigation, and another for peeing in another member’s chair.
“Since you’re trying to put us on trial, I’ll say what you’re really putting on trial is the state of Tennessee,” Mr Jones said. “What you’re really showing to the world is holding up the mirror to a state that is going back to some dark, dark roots.”
In each expulsion resolution, Republicans claimed the lawmakers “knowingly and intentionally” brought “disorder and dishonor” to the House.
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