Expelled Tennessee House reps reinstated; could the same thing happen in NC?

CHARLOTTE — Two representatives are back in the Tennessee House, but not without weeks of historic drama.

Democrats Justin Jones and Justin Pearson were expelled from the Republican-led House earlier this month. The two were protesting in support of more gun control following the deadly school shooting in Nashville.

The dismissals grabbed national headlines, bringing accusations of political retaliation and racism.

However, the saga however isn’t over -- both men will face a special election in the coming months.

The banishment raises a question for voters and politicians -- could the same thing happen in North Carolina? It’s rare, but not out of the question.

The state constitution allows the House and Senate to “judge the qualifications and elections of its members.” It also says members can “dissent from or protest against” anything they think may be harmful to the public, which is a designation that may have saved the Tennessee legislators.

North Carolina lawmakers seem to be more cautious when removing one of their own. Since 1900, just one representative has been ousted from their position, and it happened relatively recently.

In 2008, the state House expelled New Hanover Rep. Thomas Wright for accusations of ethical misconduct. Wright was accused of mishandling more than $300,000 dollars in campaign funds.

At the time, a special committee said Wright failed to report contributions and used his role to get real estate loans, among other violations. Wright was in his eighth term representing Wilmington when he was expelled.

Wright denied the accusations against him, but was later convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice and spent six years in prison.

South Carolina law also allows similar punishment for “disorderly behavior,” including expulsion of a lawmaker by a two-thirds majority.

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