- Tennessee House GOPs are trying to expel Democrats who protested gun violence during a session.
- One of the Reps called out past legislator who have done worse but were not immediately punished.
- The trio’s protest comes days after a shooter opened fire in a Nashville School, killing six.
Tennessee House Republicans have begun the process of kicking three Democratic House members out of their positions for “disorderly behavior” after the trio led an anti-gun protest on the House floor last week.
One of the lawmakers facing expulsion told Insider that past legislators in the Tennessee House have done much worse than what they did but were not immediately punished for their actions.
“It’s unprecedented because we have had disruptions bigger than that where no one was even reprimanded,” Rep. Gloria Johnson told Insider Tuesday.
Johnson brought up the case of former Rep. David Byrd, who was accused by three adult women of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers. The Associated Press reported in 2020 that Byrd apologized to one accuser in a 2018 phone call, but denied accusations from other women.
Johnson said House legislators “helped re-elect” him “for years,” despite the accusations.
“I had a resolution to oust him, and they said, ‘Well, we really can’t support that because his voters sent him here knowing that,'” she said.
She also called out a lawmaker who was accused of peeing in the seat of another legislator, saying that no one was punished. The lawmaker accused of urinating on the seat has denied the allegations.
Johnson said that before showing up to the Capitol on Monday, Johnson, along with Democratic Reps Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, had their badge access to the building and the garage cut off.
“I knew we were breaking a House rule, and I know there is a consequence for breaking a House rule,” Johnson told Insider. “But the idea that it would be expulsion when the only two expulsions in modern history were people who committed serious crimes is just outrageous.”
Tennessee’s speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
When asked why Johnson thought she, Jones, and Pearson were being targeted, Johnson said it was because “I broke a house rule and spoke without permission.”
“We are the three most vocal and progressive members in the caucus, I would imagine. That’s exactly why,” Johnson said.
Three Democratic representatives protested gun violence in the wake of a school shooting
During Thursday’s House session, Johnson, Jones, and Pearson approached the floor’s podium between bills and began shouting without getting permission to speak, which is prohibited in the House, the Tennesseean reported. They also led protestors in the chamber’s galleries in chants demanding gun reform.
The House floor protest came just three days after a shooter opened fire at The Covenant School in Nashville, killing three elementary school students and three adult faculty members.
At a Monday evening session, House Republicans introduced three nearly identical expulsion resolutions to remove Johnson, Jones, and Pearson from their House seats, with the support of the state’s Constitution, which states that “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member,” according to the text of the resolutions.
The resolutions argued that Johnson, Jones, and Pearson “did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions.”
The resolutions said the trio “gathered” and began “shouting without resolution” at 10:49 a.m. and carried on until 11:42 a.m.
Johnson told Insider that she and her colleagues only spoke on the floor during the session for about 20 seconds, at which point the House leadership quickly called a recess. She said they remained standing at the well for approximately 10 minutes while the House remained in recess.
She said that her group was prepared to take their seats when leadership called them into the clerk’s office to talk. At that point, rumors were already flying that leadership wanted to expel the trio, Johnson said.
The resolutions argued that Johnson, Jones, and Pearson “shouted, pounded on the podium, led chants with citizens in the gallery, and generally engaged in disorderly and disruptive conduct, including refusing to leave the well, sitting on the podium, and utilizing a sign displaying a political message.” The resolutions also accused Jones and Pearson of using a bullhorn to “amplify their protestations.”
The three resolutions passed along party lines with a 72-23 vote, the Tennesseean reported.
“Every expulsion has been overwhelming bipartisan with a majority of the votes on both sides. This will be a partisan vote,” Johnson said.
Final votes on the decision to remove the three representatives will occur at Thursday’s session, and each will have the opportunity to defend their actions.
Johnson thinks there are ‘common sense things we can do to prevent some of this gun violence’
Johnson told Insider that she believes more gun safety laws need to be in place. She said that she has twice introduced legislation for red flag laws in the state, but she was unsuccessful both times.
She has also brought a bill on the safe storage of guns because “many of these shooters have gotten guns from someone else who didn’t store them safely.”
“There needs to be consequences for that,” Johnson said.
She wants universal background checks — “perhaps enhanced background checks,” she said — for all gun buyers “so that we are certain guns are not getting in the hands of people that don’t need them.”
Johnson said that “beefing up security” at schools isn’t the solution. They have to stop the guns from getting to the schools to begin with, she said.
“I want to stop the guns before they ever get to the schoolhouse doors,” Johnson told Insider. “I want to prevent guns from getting into the schoolhouse doors. Not ready for a war when they get there. Let’s keep them from ever getting there. We can do that.”