“The Volunteer State” found itself in the national spotlight after the brief expulsion of Democrat Reps. Justin Johnson and Justin Pearson.
Legendary Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) once referred to it as good trouble.
Not trouble for no reason.
But trouble that led to a change in the status quo.
Lewis demonstrated that good trouble on Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala, while marching for equal voting rights despite the presence of police brutality.
Likewise, Tenn. state Rep. Justin Pearson and Rep. Justin Jones got into some good trouble when they “broke” chamber rules while protesting gun violence.
For their courage and steadfastness, RegalMag.com awards the “two Justins,” the 2023 Regal Kings of the Year.
Tennessee Republicans expelled Jones and Pearson for breaking the rules.
However, the voters of Tennessee would have none of it, re-electing them to the state legislature on an interim basis via a special election.
After winning the special election, Pearson said, “I think if we keep running this race, there will be victory after victory after victory.”
According to Kimberlee Kruesi of the Associated Press, “Jones and Pearson were elected to the Statehouse last year. Both lawmakers flew relatively under the radar, even as they criticized their Republican colleagues’ policies. It wasn’t until this spring that their political careers received a boost when they joined fellow Democrat Rep. Gloria Johnson in a protest for more gun control on the House floor.
“That demonstration took place just days after a fatal shooting in Nashville at a private Christian school where a shooter killed three children and three adults. As thousands of protestors flooded the Capitol building to demand that the Republican supermajority enact some sort of restrictions on firearms, the three lawmakers approached the front of the House chamber with a bullhorn and joined the protestors’ chants and cries for action.”
Many in the African-American community took offense when Johnson, a White woman, did not get expelled, while her African-American colleagues did get expelled.
The GOP state House is predominantly White and Johnson narrowly escaped expulsion herself.
When Republican lawmakers expelled the “two Justins” for violating House rules, that drastic action had not happened since the Civil War.
The brief expulsion left approximately 140,000 Tennessee residents from predominantly African-American areas without representation in the state House.
The A.P. reported, “House Republican leaders have repeatedly denied that race was a factor in the expulsion hearings. Democrats have disagreed, with Johnson countering that the only reason that she wasn’t expelled was due to her being White.
“The expulsions drew national support for the newly dubbed ‘Tennessee Three,’ especially for Pearson and Jones’ campaign fundraising. The two raised more than $2 million combined through about 70,400 campaign donations from across the country.”
But the “two Justins” are not just about national headlines.
The congressmen are making many things happen in the Tennessee state legislature.
Pearson is a member of the Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee of 1stExtraordinary Session, the Education Instruction of 1st Extraordinary Session, Local Government Committee of 1st Extraordinary Session, Agricultural & Natural Resources Subcommittee of 1st Extraordinary Session and the Elections & Campaign Finance Subcommittee of 1st Extraordinary Session.”
Additionally, Pearson is a member of the Memphis Community Against Pollution (MCAP), Community of Faith Christian Church and Poor People’s Campaign Mid-South Mobilization.
He is also a lifetime member of the Mitchell High School Alumni Association.
Pearson has also received numerous awards such as The Root 100 Most Influential Black Americans, Black Men Crowned Humanitarian of the Year and Rotary Club Environmental Trailblazer of the Year.
Now, Pearson can add 2023 Regal King of the Year to his list of accolades.
On the other hand, Jones is a policy and activism fellow from the John Lewis Center for Social Justice at Fisk University.
He also received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from Fisk.
Currently, Jones is completing his master’s in theological studies from Vanderbilt University.
Jones is a member of the Agriculture & Nature Resources Committee of 1stExtraordinary Session, the Education Administration of 1st Extraordinary Session, the Transportation Committee of 1st Extraordinary Session and the Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee of 1st Extraordinary Session.
In addition to holding the distinction of 2023 Regal King of the Year, Jones also won the ACLU of Tennessee “2016 Benjamin S. Pressnell Bill of Rights Award,” Tennessee Human Rights Commission “2016 Human Rights Rising Activist Award,” Nashville NAACP “2019 Charles E. Kimbrough 100 Medal of Honor” Vanderbilt Organization of Black Graduate and Professional Students “2019 Ubuntu Award for outstanding service.”
Jones is also the author of The People’s Plaza: 62 Days of Nonviolent Resistance, which was published by Vanderbilt University Press in the spring of 2022.
Jones also sponsored HB1580.
The bill, which was sent to the delayed bills committee would make it “an offense for a person to possess or manufacture an ammunition feeding device that has capacity to accept more than 10 rounds, except for certain circumstances; requires, subject to certain exemptions, that a sale or transfer of a firearm be done through a federally licensed gun dealer; creates a Class B misdemeanor for sales or transfers that are not conducted through a gun dealer; allows a court to issue an extreme risk protection order upon finding that a person poses a risk of causing bodily injury to the person or others if allowed to purchase or possess a firearm…”
Pearson also sponsored gun control legislation that got referred to the delayed bills committee.
The Bowdoin College alum sponsored a bill that would require an individual that resides in Tennessee to maintain liability insurance for their guns.