MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — The Shelby County Commission voted Wednesday to reappoint Justin J. Pearson to the state House seat from which he was expelled.
All seven commissioners who were present voted yes on the reappointment: Henri Brooks, Edmund Ford Jr., Erika Sugarmon, Charlie Caswell, Shante Avant, Miska Clay-Bibbs and Mickell Lowery.
Commissioners Amber Mills, David Bradford, Mick Wright, Brandon Morrison, Britney Thornton and Michael Whaley were not present.
Pearson released a statement shortly afterward, saying in part,
I’m so humbled and grateful to once again represent District 86. Thank you to those who rallied, marched, wrote letters, posted on social media and prayed for this moment. I thank the members of the Shelby County Commission for their courage to do what is right, to protect the representation that voters in District 86 went to the polls twice to earn.
We’ve been through a lot this past week, but the struggle continues and we’re in this together. We’ve seen more than our share of struggles in District 86–exploitation, racism, and all manner of inequities. But we’ve always triumphed because we’ve been on the right side of history. As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We are benders of that arc and justice is what we will achieve–justice for those who mourn the loss of loved ones to gun violence and endure the stubborn racial and financial disparities that have no place in our world.
“This is a great day. We’ve restored democracy,” said Congressman Steve Cohen (D-Memphis), who spoke at a rally for Pearson outside the Shelby County building after the vote. Pearson had interned for Cohen at the beginning of his political career.
Pearson, speaking to a group outside, said he was glad to get back to elevating the voices of the three children and three adults who died in a school shooting in Nashville.
“We know it’s preventable because there are good laws that exist. We know it’s preventable because there are organizations advocating for the change of the law to save people’s lives,” he said before a cheering crowd. “A movement is rising. They tried to expel democracy. They tried to expel the people’s choice and the people’s vote. And they awakened a sleeping giant.”
Supporters of the expelled state representative rallied Wednesday at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, an hour and a half before the scheduled vote by the Shelby County Commission.
The county commission’s government committee swiftly voted Wednesday morning to put the interim appointment vote for House District 86 on the agenda for a special meeting at 1:30.
With two of the 13 commissioners out of the country Wednesday, Lowery said he expects at least nine members to be at the meeting.
“I feel pretty confident about it. I wouldn’t call the meeting if I didn’t think we’d be confident in being able to appoint Justin Pearson,” Lowery said Tuesday.
Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery said he believes the expulsion of Pearson by House Republicans was conducted in a hasty manner, and ramifications for the state are still yet to be seen.
It took seven votes by the county commission to put Pearson back in the seat temporarily until an election can be held in the coming months.
Pearson has said he plans to run in the eventual special election.
However, a vote for Pearson was far from a sure thing. County Commissioner Mick Wright said in a letter Wednesday that he was one of just two Republicans who voted to appoint Pearson to the seat back before the first special election in January, but he wouldn’t do the same this time.
“While returning Mr. Pearson to office is the preference of many who have contacted me, I cannot defend his choices on March 30, nor can I in good conscience contribute to what I see as a breakdown in our representative form of government,” Wright wrote.
Two Democratic state House members — Pearson, of Memphis and Justin Jones, of Nashville — were expelled for what House Speaker Cameron Sexton said was a violation of House rules after they interrupted a House session with a protest in favor of stricter gun control laws following a deadly school shooting in Nashville.
Jones has said House leaders previously cut off microphones when Democrats attempted to bring up gun control in discussions.
Monday, local officials in Nashville reappointed Jones to his seat in the state House on an interim basis.
A third Democrat, of Knoxville, survived her expulsion vote.
The expulsion process has drawn the attention of national media and political leaders.
A group of Democratic U.S. senators on Wednesday called for the Department of Justice to investigate the Tennessee House expulsions.
Tennessee’s 86th House District is situated along the western side of Memphis and Shelby County, bordering the Mississippi River.
Pearson easily defeated nine candidates in a special election in January to fill the seat left vacant by the death of longtime state Rep. Barbara Cooper.