The Tennessee Three: Why did one lawmaker survive expulsion vote?

Rep. Gloria Johnson remains in the State House though two former representatives were expelled on Thursday.
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, raises her fist with Rep. G. A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, after a...
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, raises her fist with Rep. G. A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, after a resolution to expel Johnson from the legislature failed on the floor of the House chamber on Thursday, April 6, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee Republicans were seeking to oust three House Democrats including Johnson for using a bullhorn to shout support for pro-gun control protesters in the House chamber. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)(George Walker IV | AP)
Published: Apr. 7, 2023 at 10:38 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 7, 2023 at 11:08 AM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - UPDATE: Justin Jones has been appointed to fill the District 52 seat until a special election is held. The seat became vacant when Jones was expelled April 6.

Previous story: Two of the three lawmakers deemed “The Tennessee Three” were expelled during a rare vote by the State House this week.

Former State Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson lost their House seats on Thursday after an hours-long deliberation by the House members. Rep. Gloria Johnson narrowly avoided expulsion as one vote preserved her position in the state legislature.

“It might have to do with the color of our skin,” Rep. Gloria Johnson said after being asked why she survived the expulsion vote while her colleagues did not.

Vote Breakdown

The House voted on the expulsion of three Democratic lawmakers after Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton said they violated House rules by disrupting the session agenda on March 30 by taking part in a gun reform rally on the House floor. Speaker Sexton and other Republican lawmakers have added that Jones and Johnson have repeatedly disrupted meetings in their short time as members of the legislature.

The votes were recorded as follows:

Former Rep. Justin Jones

  • Ayes: 72
  • Noes: 25

Rep. Gloria Johnson

  • Ayes: 65
  • Noes: 30

Former Rep. Justin Pearson

  • Ayes: 69
  • Noes: 26

Rep. Gloria Johnson voted in opposition to the expulsion of former Rep. Justin Jones and former Rep. Justin Pearson. Pearson was also able to cast his vote for both lawmakers on the chopping block before being expelled himself.

Pearson’s votes are not recorded in the breakdown of who voted yes or no but are included in the total vote count.

Several State Representatives voted to expel Jones and Pearson, but not Johnson. These swayed votes allowed Rep. Gloria Johnson to keep her House seat.

Rep. Jody Barrett, R-Dickson, Rep. Rush Bricken, R-Tullahoma, Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore, Rep. Mike Sparks, R-Smyrna, and Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, were the five lawmakers who voted in support of Rep. Johnson, allowing her to remain as District 90′s state representative.

Rep. Russell said he made his decision to keep Rep. Johnson in the House because she did not participate in protests in the same way as former Reps. Jones and Pearson did.

He said Rep. Johnson did not appear to do anything other than stand near the Well and move her lips, while Jones and Pearson were the two who used a bullhorn to “shout and scream.”

“While Johnson needs to be censored for her unacceptable conduct that day, the evidence presented did not warrant her expulsion,” Rep. Russell said. “Had all three participated the same, I would have voted to expel all three.”

The Tennessee GOP released the following statement in regard to the expulsion vote: “Nashville. Tennessee House Republicans decided to uphold the rule of law and remove 2 Democrat State Representatives that disrupted and protested the legislative process on March 30th, 2023. Their adolescence and immature behavior brought dishonor to the Tennessee General Assembly as they admitted to knowingly breaking the rules. Actions have consequences, and we applaud House Republicans for having the conviction to protect the rules, the laws, and the prestige of the State of Tennessee.”