NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Three members of the Democratic Party face an expulsion vote this week following their interruption on the House floor Thursday afternoon.
Reps. Gloria Johnson (Knoxville), Justin Jones (Nashville) and Justin Pearson (Memphis) walked up to the well of the House during their Thursday session, violating rules of decorum in the chamber. The move has since been characterized by Republican lawmakers as an “insurrection,” including Speaker Cameron Sexton (R—Crossville).
On Monday afternoon, just after Gov. Bill Lee announced a three-pronged approach to bolstering school safety that included $140 million for public schools to hire SROs but no mention of any gun law reform, Johnson, Jones and Pearson held a press conference debunking the insurrection claims spread by their colleagues across the aisle.
According to all three lawmakers, they decided to take to the well after being repeatedly silenced by Sexton throughout the week following the mass shooting at The Covenant School, which killed six people, including three 9-year-old children.
“We get punished for doing something like listening to the people of the state of Tennessee,” Pearson said.
“The three of us were tired of our voice not being heard in the morning for Welcome and Honoring,” Johnson said. “We didn’t get called on for the voucher bill that happened, and we decided between bills we were going to walk up, we were going to acknowledge the people outside surrounding this building, in the rotunda, and we’re going to speak to their issue and tell them that we are with them, because they needed to hear that.”
“Our mics were cut off throughout the week whenever we tried to bring up the issue of gun violence,” Jones said. “When I went outside to support those protesting the Speak cut off my voting machine—the first time I’ve ever seen that happen. The Speaker refused to let us talk during welcoming and honoring to welcome our constituents—the thousands gathered outside the Capitol building.”
By Monday, the lawmakers said their badge access to the Cordell Hull building had been shut off, as has their parking access.
Additionally, both Johnson and Jones confirmed they were stripped of all their committee assignments half an hour before they were set to meet in committee.
They also hit back at Sexton’s national media appearances, where he characterized the interruption by the Democratic lawmakers as akin to the January 6th insurrection.
“I do want to set the record straight: The thousands of children and adults who marched outside of the People’s House are not insurrectionists. My walk, my colleagues’ walk to the House floor was in a peaceful and civil manner, and it was not an insurrection,” Pearson said.
Jones went further, saying the Speaker “spent more time on Twitter this weekend talking about a fake insurrection than he did about the deaths of six people including 9-year-old children.”
He also said Sexton backtracked after originally calling the peaceful protest of thousands of students Thursday the insurrection.
“When he said people were rushing the doors, he was talking about those moms, and children, and preschoolers, and high school students gathered outside, and you have a responsibility as journalists to tell the truth and to call a lie a lie,” he said during the press conference.
“Unlike January 6th, no one was threatened with violence. No trooper had to wield a gun at the doors of our chamber to stop violent people with pepper spray and weapons from coming to the House floor. No police officers or troopers were killed. No windows to our hallowed house were smashed, nor walls scaled. The peaceful actions and exercise of our nation’s First Amendment right by Tennesseans was not an insurrection and is not in any way comparable to January 6th. All comments that say otherwise are a disservice to our constituents who were mostly children and teens who marched and who advocated for just and reasonable gun control legislation,” Pearson said.
Any comments stating otherwise were a “disservice to the Troopers and Sergeants-At-Arms who work tirelessly to keep us safe.”
“If this House decides to expel me for exercising our First Amendment right to help elevate the voices in our community who want to see us act to prevent gun violence, then they can do as they feel they must,” Pearson said. “I and we must always stand up for what we believe to be right and just. We must say no to more gun violence. We must prioritize the voice of thousands of families that are hurting due to this country and this state’s gun violence epidemic, especially in communities like mine.”
Pearson added gun violence was not a Nashville-specific problem, but an “epidemic of mass proportion in our state,” and that the gun laws enacted by the legislature “help to perpetuate that.”
According to Jones, if he and his two colleagues are expelled from the House for Thursday’s protest, it would be the first time in state history that it would not be a bipartisan vote.
“This will be the first time in history that you would have an exclusively partisan expulsion,” he said, noting former Rep. Jeremy Durham was expelled in bipartisan fashion.
He further stated a 1980 expulsion of an East Tennessee representative was also a bipartisan vote, though he did not specify which representative that was.
“This would be the first expulsion that is not bipartisan. I think it’s important to note that,” he said.
The House met for its regular session Monday at 5 p.m., where Republican lawmakers introduced resolutions calling for the Democrats’ expulsion.