Politics

State Rep. Gloria Johnson: Race played a role in colleagues' expulsion

The Tennessee state representative tells Scripps News the expulsion is "an assault on democracy."

State Rep. Gloria Johnson: Race played a role in colleagues' expulsion
George Walker IV / AP
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Although three Democratic lawmakers led a gun control protest last week, the Tennessee House of Representatives voted not to expel Gloria Johnson, but did oust her two fellow Democratic colleagues, Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson.

Rep. Johnson is now saying that race played a role in why her colleagues got expelled and she didn’t. Johnson is White; Jones and Pearson are Black.

"I think it's pretty clear. I'm a 60-year-old White woman, and they are two young Black men. In listening to the questions and the way they were questioned and the way they were talked to, I was talked down to as a woman, mansplained to, but it was completely different from the questioning that they got," Johnson said Thursday.

This is just the third time since the Civil War era that a lawmaker has been expelled from the Tennessee House, and while the move may be historic in the Tennessee legislature and a shock across the U.S., Johnson says she’s not surprised as she has seen racial disparities on the House floor before. 

"I serve in a body that just a few weeks ago made national news because the Republicans have a bill to bring back the firing squad in the electric chair, and one of the Republican members said, ‘I think we should add hanging by a tree.' So, he recalled lynching and thought that bringing back lynching was a good idea. This is not something that's unusual," Johnson told Scripps News.

Jones, Pearson, and Johnson — now dubbed the "Tennessee Three" — used a bullhorn and led the protest on the GOP-dominant House floor last Thursday, but Johnson says this was not the worst incident that has taken place in the chamber and doesn’t think the punishment her colleagues received fits the protest they led.

Tennessee House votes to expel 2 Democratic lawmakers
Tennessee House votes to expel 2 Democratic lawmakers

Tennessee House votes to expel 2 Democratic lawmakers

Three Democrats faced expulsion after leading a protest at the Tennessee State Capitol last week following a Nashville school shooting.

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"We have had so much more disturbances on the House floor, and, you know, much more severe. Monday night, a Republican member shoved Rep. Jones and took his cell phone. It was remarkable. It looked almost like a fight you see on the side of a football field or basketball court," said Johnson.

Johnson said the expulsions were "the ultimate extreme punishment" for breaking a House rule when they have had people on the floor who were convicted of domestic violence and who were under federal investigation and stayed on the floor until they were indicted. 

The Tennessee General Assembly has now removed the names and pictures of Pearson and Jones from its website.

The vote to expel them comes after thousands of students walked out of class to demand stricter gun laws after a shooter killed six people, including three 9-year-old kids, at the Covenant School in Nashville last week.

In the House chamber, lawmakers discussed several bills, some addressing school safety but not gun control.

Jones and other Democrats argued the bills don’t address the real problem, whereas Republicans said the bills are a good first step to solving the problem.

President Joe Biden issued a statement after Thursday night’s vote, calling the expulsions "shocking, undemocratic, and without precedent."

"Rather than debating the merits of the issue (of gun control), these Republican lawmakers have chosen to punish, silence, and expel duly-elected representatives of the people of Tennessee," President Biden said in a statement.