NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN)– The three Tennessee Democrats facing an expulsion vote are criticizing the Republicans’ move to try to kick them out of office as evidence of a double standard.
“We have had admitted child molesters on the floor, we have had members that have peed in each other’s office chairs, we have someone who has illegally prescribed drugs to their cousin mistress and nothing ever happened to those folks,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson (D—Knox County).
Resolutions to expel Johnson, as well as Reps. Justin Jones (D—Nashville) and Justin Pearson (D—Memphis), came after they protested for gun reform on the House floor with a bullhorn while people were doing the same outside the chamber.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) equated their actions to Jan. 6 despite there being no arrests or injuries at the Tennessee Statehouse during last week’s protests.
“If this is not what rises to the level of expulsion then tell me what does,” Sexton said.
But despite saying she knew she was breaking House rules by speaking out of turn, Johnson said she didn’t expect a vote to kick her and two of her colleagues out of office.
“It was really just about 20 seconds of us talking at the mic before it was cut and before recess was called,” Johnson said. “Never in a million years did we imagine that they would try to expel members in the body for speaking for their constituents when we had not been allowed to do that previously in the day.”
Johnson and her colleagues referenced the allegations against former Rep. David Byrd (R—Waynesboro) and Sen. Joey Hensley (R—Hohenwald).
Hensley faced civil charges for allegedly prescribing opioids to family members, and according to reports referenced by the AP, also prescribed opioids to his second cousin who was also his romantic partner and worked for him.
In 2019, Byrd faced accusations of sexual misconduct after multiple women claimed he assaulted them when he was their high school basketball coach. Democrats, including Johnson, wanted to take a vote to remove Byrd.
“These allegations are very serious. And to the victims who are here today and to any Tennessean who is here today, we believe in due process and we’ll get to the bottom of this in a full judiciary hearing,” said then-Rep. Michael Curcio (R-Dickson).
That hearing didn’t happen and Byrd won re-election again despite saying he would not run. He left office last November.
When asked about giving a more serious punishment to Johnson, Jones and Pearson than Byrd, Sexton echoed his colleague’s remarks from 2019.
“Until you have due process, our system says you are innocent until proven guilty,” Sexton said.
But while Democrats say Sexton’s comments are evidence of a double standard, the White House called it a distraction from the real issue Tennessee lawmakers should be discussing.
“By doing what they’re doing with these three, they’re shrugging in the face of another tragic school shooting while our kids continue to pay the price,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean Pierre.
However, Sexton has stayed clear on his stance that these Democrats will have a chance to make their case to their colleagues, but they should be fired.
“I can tell you what I saw happen. What I was having to do was remove people from the balcony because of disorderly conduct,” Sexton said. “So, I was focused, having to get the troopers because the troopers could not hear me ask them to clear the balcony for that disruption.”
It takes two-thirds of the House to expel a member. The 113th Tennessee General Assembly is comprised of 75 Republicans and 23 Democrats with one vacancy.