Council votes to return Justin Pearson to Tennessee State House


By Stacy M. Brown,

NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent,

After Justin Pearson led thousands in a March from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis to the Shelby County Administration Building, the Board of Commissioners voted to send the ousted Democrat back to the Tennessee State House of Representatives.

The reinstatement comes two days after a Nashville Metropolitan Council vote to re-seat fellow Democratic State Rep. Justin Jones, and more than a week after Republicans expelled the duo for protesting gun violence.

“It’s a victory, but the fight continues,” Pearson declared to the throng of marchers and a large media contingent in Memphis.

Board members in Memphis remained concerned about GOP backlash, some fearing the state Republicans will react by taking funding from the city. In Nashville, the Metropolitan Council, which unanimously voted to re-seat Jones, continues to face an assault from state Republicans.

This week, a panel of judges ruled that Republican lawmakers cannot cut in half the 40 seats on the primarily Democrat body. The GOP’s attempt appears to be a retaliation for the council’s refusal to allow Nashville to host the 2024 Republican National Convention.

Despite the combined city-county government system of 40 council members being in effect for roughly 60 years, the GOP wants Nashville to create new council districts, which many say would usurp the power of black leaders.

“There is a compelling public interest in preserving the integrity of the Metro election process that is already underway,” three state court justices wrote, rebuffing the GOP’s attempt to wrest control. The judges represented Nashville, Shelby County and Athens.

“The Court finds the implementation of the Act and its reduction provisions at this late date results in an upheaval of the election process, risks voter confusion, and potentially comprises the integrity of Davidson County’s August 3, 2023, general election,” the judges continued.

Separately, the Federal Aviation Administration has halted a Republican plan to have the GOP takeover Metro Nashville Airport Authority board appointments.

The state Senate has supported chiefly the move in SB1326, and the House was scheduled to hear a similar measure this week.

Reportedly, the FAA Office of Airport Compliance and Management Analysis Director Kevin C. Willis said the agency “has questions regarding the potential impact of transferring the appointment authority of all board members from the mayor of the local community to state-appointed officials.”

Currently, Nashville’s Democratic mayor appoints board members to the airport, but the GOP wants to take that power from him.

Shelby County Commission Chairman Mickell Lowery, told the local newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, that some of those fears stem from the city and county’s past with the state.

The newspaper said he pointed to 2018, when the state stripped Memphis of $250,000 in funding for its bicentennial celebration. Several news outlets quoted State Rep. Steve McDaniel saying that was in retaliation for Memphis taking down Confederate statues the year before.

During a recent reception for Pearson, Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. asked Pearson about the alleged threats by the state. Pearson reportedly said the state has no right “to subvert that democratic process that’s within our constitution by withholding resources that they know we want and/or need.”

“The second thing, can we be bought?” Pearson asked. “Can our democracy be bought? Can our voice be bought and our power be bought? I don’t think there’s any county commissioner that says there’s a price the governor or state legislature can pay for us to not do what we know is in the will and interests of the people.”

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