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The Republican leadership of Tennessee's House of Representatives stripped state Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, of her committee assignments April 3 in retaliation for her peaceful participation in last week’s demonstration for gun reform that spilled over to the House floor March 30, Knox News has learned.
State Rep. Sam McKenzie, D-Knoxville, confirmed the action to Knox News before the House leadership announced it. He was in the office when the clerk delivered Johnson's letter.
"Yes, they have. That's official and I'm hoping that's all they do," he texted.
It wasn't. Later that night, House Republicans filed resolutions to expel three Democrats for "disorderly behavior" after the trio led protest chants for gun reform on the floor of the chamber last week in the wake of the deadly Covenant School shooting.
The expulsion resolutions state the trio "did knowingly and intentionally bring disorder and dishonor to the House of Representatives through their individual and collective actions."
Lawmakers have not yet voted for expulsion. Once the House votes on the resolution, it is expected to trigger an expulsion process that would give the trio a chance to defend themselves at another floor session before a final vote.
After a Nashville news conference with Gov. Bill Lee and other lawmakers, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, confirmed that Johnson and Rep. Justin Jones, D-Nashville, had been stripped of their committee assignments. A third member, Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, did not serve on any committees.
Johnson told reporters the three lawmakers were "tired of our voice not being heard."
"We decided between bills, we are going to walk up, we're going to acknowledge the people outside surrounding this building, in the rotunda, and we're going to speak to their issue and tell them that we are with them," she said.
Jones told reporters he wasn't pleading for mercy.
"They're threatening to expel us," Jones told reporters. "They're trying to make an example of us. This is a political lynching. But we will not back down."
The Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators pointed out that expelling Johnson, Jones and Pearson would "deny more than 200,000 Tennesseans their voice in the legislature" and that many of those voters are Black.
"The people who elected us are calling for meaningful action to end gun violence," caucus members wrote in a statement released April 3.
Access cut off
Following the demonstration, Johnson, Pearson, and Jones' access to the Cordell Hull Legislative Office Building and member's parking garage was restricted. Johnson told reporters her building access badge had been deactivated, and she was unable to retrieve her mobility scooter over the weekend.
All three continue to have access to their offices and legislative staff, and will continue to be called on on the House floor, for the time being, Sexton said.
Why the protests?
Hundreds of demonstrators came to the Capitol in Nashville in response to what they said was lawmakers’ inaction after a gunman killed six people, including three 9-year-old students, at The Covenant School in Nashville on March 27.
What happened during the protest?
Johnson stood with freshmen Jones and Pearson when they took over the well of the House chamber and began chanting through a megaphone.
The demonstration remained peaceful throughout – there was no property damage or arrests made, according to the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Sexton immediately recessed the chamber, halting legislative business for nearly an hour before it resumed, and ordered security to clear the House galleries.
On April 3, hundreds of demonstrators came back to the Capitol. In one clip, posted on Twitter by Johnson, the demonstrators chanted "thoughts and prayers are not enough."
Johnson, Jones and Pearson addressed media members.
Sexton and other House Republicans have taken to the airwaves and social media to inaccurately compare the event to the attack on the U.S. Capitol, which left scores of police officers injured and resulted in millions of dollars of damage, even though the Tennessee Highway Patrol there was no damage or injuries of a result of the demonstration.
Sexton and other Republican leaders were highly critical of the three Democratic lawmakers, including Johnson. Leadership is considering sanctions as severe as expulsion for the lawmakers.
Sexton tweeted a statement saying his previous comments were taken out of context and they were instead directed at the Democratic lawmakers.
"What they did was try to hold up the people's business on the House floor instead of doing it the way that they should have done it, which they have the means to do," Sexton said April 3.
Tyler Whetstone is an investigative reporter focused on accountability journalism. Email email@example.com. Twitter @tyler_whetstone. Support strong local journalism by subscribing at knoxnews.com/subscribe.
The Tennessean contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Rep. Gloria Johnson punished by GOP after role in gun reform protests