Gloria Johnson speaks out on her near-expulsion from the Tennessee legislature
"My mom is a Republican. She watched it, and it was upsetting to her. It’s been really powerful."
A note from Aaron: This is a special paid subscriber-only edition of Public Notice featuring an interview with a member of the “Tennessee three.” If you’re not already a paid subscriber and have the means to do so, please click the button below to advantage of the free trial I’m offering and enjoy full access to the site. (Email me if you’d like full access but can’t afford it.) Paid subscriptions make this newsletter possible. Thank you!
Republicans in the Tennessee legislature stirred up controversy and ultimately scored an own goal when they expelled two Democratic members simply for demonstrating for gun control measures in the wake of a school shooting in Nashville.
Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, two Black state representatives, were kicked out of office, only to be reinstated within a week when the local governing bodies in their district reappointed them. Still, it was an extraordinary measure, even for emboldened Republicans. A third Democrat, Gloria Johnson, escaped the same fate by a single vote — a difference she attributed to her whiteness.
Why did this happen? What’s going on in Tennessee? To get to the bottom of it I spoke with Johnson, a veteran legislator who represents parts of Knoxville and has been in the crosshairs of Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton for years. We talked about Republicans systematically increasing their power in the state through redistricting, how the party has become more extreme in recent years, and more.
A transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
Republicans threatened to cut local funding if Jones and Pearson were reinstated, which has now happened. Do you think they’ll follow through?
This is the Tennessee legislature. I was sitting in the criminal justice committee a few weeks ago when a Republican brought a bill to reinstate firing squads and the electric chair as ways to do capital punishment. After I had spoken against the bill, a Republican spoke and said he thought it was a great bill and that it should be amended to include hanging someone by a tree. We actually have a Republican member advocating for a hate crime. He didn’t say hanging from the gallows. He said hanging from a tree. We’re here in the South, and we know exactly what that means.
You were almost expelled from the legislature. Did that come as a surprise? Had tensions been building for a long time or did this feel like it came out of nowhere?
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Public Notice to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.