NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee state Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones have raised more than $2 million combined through about 70,400 campaign donations after Republican lawmakers abruptly expelled the Democrats this spring for their gun control protest on the House floor.
The vast majority of those small donations came over just a few days when the two had been kicked out, but not yet reinstated. If Republicans kept the two young Black House members in office, they would not have been allowed to fundraise as sitting lawmakers while a legislative session was ongoing.
Instead, each of the two lawmakers saw a flood of campaign cash beyond the norm for even Republican legislative leaders to raise, let alone two freshman Democrats who are in the superminority.
Campaign finance reports that were due by the end of Monday show how much Democrats capitalized on the national attention. Jones and Pearson were expelled over a breach of decorum rules for their protest calling for the GOP to pass gun control measures after the March 27 deadly shooting at a Christian school in Nashville. Their white colleague who joined them in protest, Rep. Gloria Johnson, was spared by a single vote.
Jones, from Nashville, brought in almost $959,000 from April 6, the date of the expulsions, to his reinstatement on April 10 by local Nashville officials. In total, he raised nearly $1.1 million from early April through June.
Pearson, from Memphis, raised more than $857,000 from his expulsion until April 13, when he was sworn back into the House and returned to the floor the day after the Shelby County Commission voted to reinstate him. Pearson’s total fundraising topped $971,000 from April through June. His campaign previously provided The Associated Press with preliminary fundraising totals.
Johnson remained in office, so the Knoxville lawmaker was still banned from fundraising while Jones and Pearson were receiving tens of thousands of donations. Johnson raised $27,000 from late April through June.
GOP leaders said the expulsion actions – used only a handful times since the Civil War – were necessary to avoid setting a precedent that lawmakers’ disruptions of House proceedings through protest would be tolerated. They have denied that race was considered in the moves, and some have cited Johnson’s points during the expulsion debate that her role in the protest was lesser – she didn’t speak into the megaphone, for example.
Pearson, Jones and Johnson have hit the national TV news circuit, visited President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House and made appearances outside Tennessee.
Among the biggest high-profile supporters has been Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Murphy tweeted a link to a fundraising page in April, and his team said he helped raise more than $605,000 to split between Pearson and Jones.
Tennessee Democrats have been relegated to the superminority in both legislative chambers for years, limiting their recourse mainly to complaining when Republicans want to halt debates quickly, or waive other House rules. Pearson and other Democrats hope the fundraising wave can help them cut into that margin. In recent years, there have been very few competitive legislative districts.
Pearson and Jones first face Aug. 3 special elections to keep their seats.
More than 15 Republican lawmakers have funneled cash to Jones’ Republican opponent, Laura Nelson, in the Democratic-leaning district. Nelson has raised more than $34,000 for the race.
Pearson, meanwhile, doesn’t have a Republican opponent next month. He faces independent Jeff Johnston, who has raised shy of $400 for the contest.
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