Ahead of this week’s special primary election for the Tennessee House seat currently held by State Rep. Justin Jones, the young Catholic-raised activist has reported a surge in fundraising, the fruit of an international zeitgeist following his expulsion from the legislature earlier this spring.
In a financial disclosure filed on June 7, Jones reported just under $65,000 in contributions, including from various public officials, a number of Christian clergy, and U.S. Rep Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi, one of the largest donors at $1,000, was among hundreds of small-dollar donors from around the country, including Tennessee as well as Jones’ native California. The donation period for the report spanned from early June back to late April, shortly after Jones was reappointed to his seat on an interim basis by the Nashville Metro Council.
Last month, Jones officially announced his candidacy in the special election for his seat, which will take place on August 3. He will run unopposed in the Democratic primary on Thursday, June 15, before facing Republican Laura Nelson in the fall.
“This is the first step in the democratic process to restore full representation to our district and challenge the authoritarian decision made on April 6 to expel us,” he wrote on Twitter.
“While I have a Republican opponent, this election is about so much more than a single candidate or campaign. This election is a referendum on democracy. Join us in the fight to protect kids, not guns.”
Originally elected to the Tennessee House for the 52nd district last year, the 27-year-old Jones has long championed progressive causes in the Republican-led state, and before his win had twice been arrested during protests at the state capitol. He was later banned from the building before succeeding Mike Stewart as representative of a largely Black and brown district in central and eastern Nashville.
With fellow Black State Rep. Justin J. Pearson of Memphis, Jones was among the “Tennessee Three”—the Democrat legislators who led a gun control protest into the state capitol on March 30 of this year, following a mass shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville three days prior.
Jones, alleged by Republican legislators to have illicitly used a bullhorn to disrupt House proceedings, was brought up for an expulsion vote, as was Pearson and a third participant—State Rep. Gloria Johnson, who is White. A Republican party-line vote expelled Pearson and Jones on April 6 while Johnson avoided losing her seat, sparking accusations of racism against the GOP legislators, among other concerns.
“You voted to expel the two youngest Black legislators in our state because we protested with our constituents calling for common sense gun laws,” Jones tweeted on June 9 to Republican State Rep. Jeremy Falson.
“Meanwhile, you shielded your Republican Vice-Chair who was sexually harassing an intern until it became public. That’s corruption.”
Three days after being reappointed and sworn in before a swollen crowd on the steps of the state capitol on April 11, Jones introduced a bill in the House that would make it illegal in Tennessee to carry or manufacture a gun with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. The legislation was quickly tabled by Republican House leaders.
Since his expulsion, Jones has received high-profile support from around the country, including a resolution in the California State Assembly and a meeting with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. He and Pearson spoke with the president via conference call on April 7, and Harris met with the two the same day at Fisk University—Jones’ alma mater, where he served in the Catholic campus ministry.
All of the Tennessee Three later met with Biden at the White House on April 24, where he praised their leadership.
“What that Republican legislature did was shocking, it was undemocratic, and it was without any precedent. But you turned it around very quickly,” Biden said.
“Nothing is guaranteed about democracy. Every generation has to fight for it. And you all are doing just that.”
Since April, Jones has outraised his Republican opponent in the special election by more than 250%, portending a near-surefire win come August in his heavily Democratic district.
As Tennessee state law does not allow early voting in primaries with only one candidate, voters will head to the polls physically on Thursday. Polling locations will be open from 7am to 7pm CT.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.