KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — On Thursday, Knoxville Representative Gloria Johnson was the only one of the “Tennessee Three” spared from expulsion by a single vote. In an interview with WATE, she criticized the expulsion hearings and stood by her decision to speak out on the House floor.
The Tennessee House held expulsion hearings Thursday afternoon for Johnson, and Reps. Justin Jones (D – Nashville), and Justin J. Pearson (D – Memphis). Johnson was saved from expulsion by a single vote. 65 representatives voted to expel Johnson, and a total of 66 votes was needed to pass the resolution to expel her. Jones and Pearce were both expelled.
Johnson recounted the events of the week, the state of the Tennessee House and how she felt about the expulsion of her two fellow representatives.
According to Johnson, she faced three punishments for breaking a rule by going to the well without recognition on March 30. She added that they found out Thursday that going to the well without recognition without permission does not break a house rule.
“There were actually three punishments, and we were not told about any of them.” Johnson said.
She told WATE that first, her badge access to the garage was shut off, stopping her from accessing her vehicle. Then, when she went to government for a committee she was on, she got a letter saying that the three had been stripped from their committees an hour before the committee meeting began. Lastly, when she got to the House floor Monday evening, she found out about the resolutions to expel the her, Jones, and Pearson.
“I don’t think they thought about it. I think they were just so angry that we dared to speak without permission, that they lost it. And it’s embarrassing. It’s a horrible look for them. The nation is watching,” Johnson said. “People were horrified at what they saw, horrified. The GOP made a huge mistake in. Going to that extreme for something that is minimal compared to other things that have happened on that House floor.”
Johnson explained that the reason the three went to the well in the first place was to make the voices of their district heard when they were not able to be lifted up because the representatives were not being called on and their microphones were cut off. According to Johnson, there are legislators in Nashville who “are more concerned with pleasing the NRA and the Tennessee Firearms Association than they are about pleasing their own constituents.”
Even before the hearings, Johnson said she did not regret what she did. Friday, she she said she will not be apologizing, despite comments in her hearing suggesting that she should be more remorseful.
“I’m not apologizing for what I did. That’s just a fact, I went. I felt compelled in my heart because I was a teacher who lived through a school shooting in Knoxville who went to Colorado to work with kids that had been at Columbine and were too traumatized to go back. If they don’t allow us to speak on the floor, if they cut our mics and refuse to call on us on an issue so important, that’s why we went to the well. And I’m not going to apologize for that.”
Despite the ruckus that the expulsion hearings caused nationwide, Johnson said that she does not think the original message of school safety and gun reform that they were fighting to share was lost in the mix. She also said Knoxvillians can expect that she will not to stop fighting for the safety of Tennesseans.
“My plans are to keep fighting for that legislation that is going to help keep our kids safe, their schools and help keep our teachers safe. But it’s not just gun safety in schools. It’s churches. It’s movie theaters. It’s grocery stores.” Johnson said. “We don’t want the doors to come to the schoolhouse door, everything that they’re doing is just going to cause a shootout at the schoolhouse doors, which is puts people in danger. We’re talking about preventative measures that keep the guns from ever getting to the schoolhouse door.”
Johnson also expressed gratitude for her district.
“First of all, thank you so much for the support. They came out so hard for me. They came to Nashville yesterday. They called, they emailed. They had a rally to support the Tennessee Three and I just cannot thank them enough,” she said. “I got so many calls from folks at home. It was just unbelievable and all of them of support.”
While she said she is proud to remain in Nashville to be the voice for what her district overwhelmingly wants, she also said in the hearing, she could not feel excited to keep her seat by one vote because she was sad that Jones had just lost his seat.
The two were seen on camera sharing a hug after Jones’ vote, and Johnson told WATE that she was deeply sad because Jones’ voice is important in the House body.
“We had just lost an amazing voice in the legislature and a good friend. But that’s OK because I think he’ll be right back,” Johnson said.