Update: April 6 – The vote to expel Representative Gloria Johnson failed 65 ayes to 30 nays.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee State Representative Gloria Johnson (Knoxville) is one of three democratic representatives that may be facing expulsion following their decision to speak on the house floor on Monday.
Johnson told WATE on they are potentially facing an expulsion vote for breaking a rule by speaking on the house floor without permission for about 20 seconds.
“We were in session, we were on the House floor and we had not been allowed to speak all morning to welcome and honor the people who were there protesting for the lives of their children, and we were frustrated that we had not been allowed to speak,” Johnson said, explaining what led to the controversial moment. “There was a voucher vote where most of us were not allowed to speak, and so me and a couple of my colleagues decided that between bills, we would walk to the floor to recognize the people and why they were there and that we let them know that we cared about their issue.”
The protest at the Tennessee General Assembly comes the week after six people were killed in a mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville. Three of those killed in the shooting there 9-year-old children. Nashville students took part in a walkout, with students, parents, and together supporters gathering at the Tennessee Capitol to protest after.
“They were begging us to do something and I cannot listen to the cries of moms and dads and children and do nothing.”Gloria Johnson
They knew this would be breaking a house rule, Johnson said, but she felt like she needed to speak for the people in her district, for those outside the building and outside the house doors. She explained that they spoke on the floor for about 20 seconds before their microphone was cut and a recess was called. The rest of their action that has been criticized, such as one representative using a megaphone, was done during recess, 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 said.
Despite the legislation being suggested to protect children, Johnson said she does not have any regrets for what she she did. Instead, she said she knows she did the right thing and it was worth it.
“I’m on the right side of history. It was worth it to me to break a rule to speak to the gun violence that is happening in our schools, in our churches, in our restaurants, in our grocery stores. We have got to talk about it and the majority of Tennesseans want gun sense legislation.” Johnson said.
Johnson said polling shows a majority of Republicans in Knoxville support red flag laws and gun sense legislation. Last year, Tennessee’s lawmakers were split on red flag laws, with some arguing they are unconstitutional and ineffective. Others said the laws would keep guns from those who do not need them.
The decision of the three representatives is not groundbreaking. It’s been done before, on the U.S. Congress floor, according to Johnson.
“Sometimes you have to get in good trouble. You know, Rep. John Lewis did this exact same thing a couple of years ago on the floor in Congress because of gun violence. They sat in on the House floor. They knew they were breaking a rule. But sometimes, in order to be heard, in order to bring attention to an issue that is killing children and killing people in our communities, sometimes you have to take a stand, and that’s what we did for just a few minutes.”
Johnson also explained much of the feedback that she’s received about her actions, including from Republicans, has been “extremely supportive.” She also warned that people need to be aware of the actions taking place in the Tennessee General Assembly.
“What people need to understand, if the Republicans are successful at removing three of the most vocal members in the legislature for daring to speak without permission, there is no end to what we’re going to see from them,” Johnson said. “It is remarkable the speaker went on national news and lied. He said what happened at the Capitol, and he was talking about the protesters… He’s trying to walk that back, but he said they were trying to storm the house floor. That did not happen. It absolutely did not. It was a peaceful protest. Everything was peaceful and for him to say that he thought his life was in danger and it was worse than the insurrection, is dangerous rhetoric. “
The three lawmakers pushed back on Sexton’s comments calling the peaceful demonstrations at the capitol an “insurrection” at a press conference on Tuesday.
“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.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated.