Ouster of Tennessee Dems catapults lawmakers to national political fame

Already, top party members are engaging. Vice President Kamala Harris plans to make an unexpected visit to Nashville to meet with the ousted lawmakers and push for gun reform, the Tennessean reported Friday.

And it’s unlikely the pair will be gone from the state Capitol building for long – local leaders are already moving to reappoint both of them well before a special election is held. The Nashville Metro Council on Monday will consider naming Jones to his old seat, which encompasses parts of Nashville. In Person’s Memphis district, the head of the Shelby County Commission, which has a Democratic supermajority, said she could consider reappointing Pearson.

“We are ready to go,” said Freddie O’Connell, a Nashville council member. O’Connell, a Democrat who is running for Nashville mayor, said he believes Jones has enough support from the council to return to the statehouse as soon as Monday evening.

Jones said on CNN Friday morning that he intends to get back to the statehouse. He sees his and Pearson’s roles as being a “voice of moral dissent” and a “speed bump to try and stop them from driving this train off the cliff.”

Following the reappointments, special elections will be held to permanently fill both seats. Jones and Pearson have already rebooted their old campaign websites and reopened their fundraising accounts. While it’s up to Republican Gov. Bill Lee to call for a new election and the state party to set deadlines, it’s likely the primary election will take place by late summer and the general election in the fall, ensuring that the pair will remain in the spotlight throughout much of the year.

“I do not expect Justin Jones to be suffering from a lack of resources to soundly defeat anybody else who might enter that contest as a Republican,” O’Connell said. Jones was uncontested in the general after winning the Democratic primary by about 300 votes.

State Sen. Raumesh Akbari said Republicans’ pursuit of expulsions instead of considering gun legislation has ignited a spark among Tennesseeans, one that could backfire for the GOP.

“A week ago, no one outside this community knew Justin Jones and Justin Pearson,” Akbari said. “Now the world is watching. Their platform and their ability to advocate for the issues they believe in has been magnified.”

Several members of the Tennessee Democratic Party said donations have been pouring in since the Covenant School shooting and Republicans’ evictions of the so-called “Tennessee Three” who collectively represent the three largest cities in the state.

A GoFundMe account created this week to cover the Democrats’ legal expenses, should they choose to sue GOP leadership, has raised more than $38,000. The trio gained tens of thousands of Twitter followers in the hours following the controversial vote.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted that over $250,000 in donations poured into ActBlue, the fundraising platform used by many Democratic politicians and organizations, the day Jones and Pearson were expelled.

Advocates want to redirect the attention back to the issue they were standing for: changing Tennessee’s gun safety laws. Protestors have surrounded the Capitol building for weeks, calling for lawmakers to pass gun-safety measures like red flag and safe storage laws, as well as roll back recent moves, like enacting permitless carry.

“Since the shooting a lot of people here in Nashville, especially students and moms and educators, were all fed up,” said Zach Maaieh, a Students Demand Action leader at Vanderbilt University who has joined protestors at the Capitol. “We’re hearing about shooting after shooting. It’s heartbreaking every single time, but you don’t see anything happening from our state leaders.”

Gun safety advocates and lawmakers point to deep red states that have enacted red flag laws, measures that allow courts to temporarily confiscate guns from someone deemed dangerous

“Nineteen states – including Indiana and Florida – have already taken this step,” Everytown for Gun Safety President John Feinblatt said at a press conference Thursday. “Now it’s time for Tennessee to join that list.”

The state Democratic party is salivating over the public’s sudden interest in Tennessee politics and channeling that energy toward taking down Republicans. It’s an extremely ambitious goal. Democrats in Tennessee and throughout the South have been stomped by Republicans in recent elections, a phenomenon that Democrats blame on GOP-crafted gerrymandered districts and low voter turnout.

Dakota Galban, head of Davidson County Democrats, an area encompassing Nashville, said most of the emails and calls he’s received in recent days are from people concerned about what Republicans’ decision to oust the Democrats means for democracy.

“We’re really trying to get as many people involved in our organization so we can mobilize and organize volunteers and voters ahead of this special election,” Galban said. “Hopefully we can build on that momentum into 2024.”

Beyond Tennessee, the drama in the Capitol has brought disdain from national leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and ex-RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

Even former President Barack Obama weighed in on Twitter, calling the events “the latest example of a broader erosion of civility and democratic norms.”

“Silencing those who disagree with us is a sign of weakness, not strength, and it won’t lead to progress,” Obama said.

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