Tennessee State Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson won their special primary races Thursday night, putting them one step closer to fully regaining their old seats.
But there's still a lot of work to be done after they gained national attention standing with protesters on the State House floor demanding stronger gun laws.
Jones and Pearson, the two youngest Black Democratic lawmakers in the State House, were expelled in April by House GOP lawmakers. Their victories on Thursday send a stark message to House GOP lawmakers, who will now see their colleagues back in the State House chamber with an even bigger megaphone to fight for tougher gun laws.
"Hey everybody, we won the primary," Pearson said in a video after winning the Democratic primary in Memphis. "Thank you so much for going out to vote. Thank you for knocking doors. Thank you for phone banking. Thank you for helping build this movement."
The movement started after six people, including three children, were killed during a mass shooting attack on the Covenant School in Nashville back in March.
The shooting sparked large protests at the State Capitol by parents and students calling for stricter gun safety measures.
Jones and Pearson along with State Rep. Gloria Johnson, who avoided expulsion by one vote, led a protest with a bullhorn inside the State House chamber and said they were expelled for standing their ground and refusing to be silenced by their colleagues. House GOP lawmakers argue they broke decorum rules.
"We have to realize that we're dealing with an institution, and institutions do not change very quickly," Pearson said. "This institution has been rooted in white supremacy, has been rooted in patriarchy and injustice for a very long time."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee knew one of the victims who died in the Nashville shooting. In an announcement, Lee said the special session set for Aug. 21 will "strengthen public safety and preserve constitutional rights."
House Republicans have so far avoided a vote on the governor's proposal for a temporary mental health order of protection that aims to keep firearms away from people who pose a threat to themselves or other people.
Jones and others are hoping discussions during the special session will be productive, but realize it will take work.
"But we know that we are still in a body where our voices are not welcome," Jones said. "The last week of session, we were not allowed to speak on the House floor. We still have been stripped of our committees, and we're still treated like second-class members in the Tennessee general assembly. And so the work to reinstate us as full members who represent our districts, over 70,000 people each, that work continues."
The special general elections are set for Aug. 3 for general voting. Both Jones and Pearson are expected to win.
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