Remaining Dem: Colleagues' Expulsion Was Racist

Members who faced vote warn of 'march to fascism' and 'the silencing of democracy'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2023 6:31 AM CDT

Tennessee Rep. Gloria Johnson may have survived expulsion from the state House for joining an unauthorized protest for gun reform on the House floor, but she's not celebrating. "We need to make sure that we stomp out this march to fascism," the Knoxville Democrat said after the vote, per WTVF. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely. America should absolutely be worried about what we've seen here today." Sixty-six votes were needed to expel. Nashville Democrat Justin Jones was ousted in a 72-25 vote before the 65-30 vote on Johnson. Seven Republicans voted against expulsion, per the Tennessean. But the deciding vote was that of Memphis Democrat Justin Pearson, who was ousted moments later.

If the vote on Johnson had come third, rather than second, "Pearson might have already been expelled, which would have left Johnson just one vote short," observed WTVF's Chris Davis. Johnson cited a different reason for her survival. "I'm a 60-year-old white woman. And they are two young Black men," she told CNN of Jones and Pearson, who was expelled in a 69-26 vote. She claimed her colleagues faced "demeaning," racist questioning on the floor. In her defense, however, Johnson observed that she'd taken a lesser role in the protest than the two men. While her colleagues used a megaphone and held signs, "I didn't speak" and "I absolutely never yelled," Johnson said, per WTVF.

Spectators shouted "fascists!" and shame on you" as the vote concluded, per the Tennessean. Pearson, sworn in following a special election, had only been in office 10 days. "The erosion of democracy in the state legislature is what got us here," he said. "It wasn’t walking up to the well, it wasn’t being disruptive to the status quo, it was the silencing of democracy and it's wrong." Former state Rep. Mike Stewart, a lawyer who spoke on Johnson's behalf, said the expulsions were unprecedented in the US. Only two other lawmakers have been ousted from the state House since the Civil War era. One was convicted of soliciting bribes, the other was accused of sexual misconduct. NPR notes that Pearson and Jones could well be back in their jobs soon: Their county commissions could choose to reappoint them on an interim level before the special election, and they're free to run in the special election. (More Tennessee stories.)

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