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Two members of the ‘Tennessee Three’ will win back remainder of their terms in special elections, CNN projects

By Eric Bradner, CNN

(CNN) — The two young, Black Tennessee state House Democrats whose expulsion following a gun control protest sparked a nationwide controversy in April, will win reelection on Thursday, CNN projects.

State Rep. Justin Jones, who first won the overwhelmingly Democratic, Nashville-area District 52 seat with no Republican opposition in the 2022 general election, will defeat his largely unknown GOP opponent Laura Nelson.

State Rep. Justin Pearson, who first won the deep blue Democratic, Memphis-area District 86 in a special election earlier this year, faced no Republican opposition for his seat, but he will defeat little-known independent Jeff Johnston.

Following their victory, Jones said Friday that he will continue fighting for gun reform.

“The speaker should know that his attempt to expel us for speaking up for our district will not happen unchallenged, that we’re not going to be afraid,” Jones told CNN’s Brianna Keilar. “We’re not going to bow down.”

Both Jones and Pearson were reinstated on an interim basis by local officials within a week of their expulsion. But the two needed to win Thursday’s special elections in order to retain their seats for the remainder of their two-year terms.

The GOP supermajority had cited breaches of decorum after the lawmakers had led a gun control protest from the statehouse floor in response to a Nashville school shooting that left three children and three adults dead. Their protest alongside Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson led to them being dubbed the “Tennessee Three.” Johnson, a White woman, also faced an expulsion vote, but was not ousted.

Their expulsion in April turned into a flashpoint in debates over gun violence, race and what forms of protest are acceptable.

Jones and Pearson met with President Joe Biden weeks after their ousters.

“What the Republican legislature did was shocking. It was undemocratic,” Biden said in April.

The pair’s reelection comes as the state assembly is expected to reconvene later this month. Tennessee GOP Gov. Bill Lee, who lost a friend in the Nashville shooting, scheduled a special session “to strengthen public safety.”

Jones urged his “Republican colleagues to put the lives of Tennessee children above the campaign contributions” from gun lobbying groups.

“We’re going to show up again and we’re going to bold, going be clear in our call for commonsense gun laws,” he told CNN Friday.

Tennessee was home to three state legislative special elections on Thursday. State Rep. Timothy Hill, a Republican who represents the eastern District 3, will win the special election for the remainder of a two-year term, CNN projects, making permanent the former state lawmaker’s return to a seat he previously held for eight years.

He will defeat Democratic challenger Lori Love in the deeply conservative district.

Hill was appointed by local officials after Republican state Rep. Scotty Campbell resigned in April amid allegations he had sexually harassed an intern. Hill had represented a previous version of the district, first winning in 2012 and holding office until he ran for Congress in 2020 – a race in which he finished second in the GOP primary.

None of the contests alter partisan control of the Tennessee House, where the GOP holds a 75 seat to 24 seat supermajority.

This story and headline have been updated with CNN’s projections.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Kaanita Iyer contributed to this report.

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