Gloria Johnson photo by John Partipilo; David “Pozy” Poczobut from davidpozy.com
“In East Tennessee, anything can happen,” said Gloria Johnson, an incumbent Democrat running in the brand-new Tennessee House of Representatives District 90 in Knox County.
Johnson, a retired Knox County teacher, had been serving in District 13, but the Republicans’ recent redistricting plan cut her home out of the district. So she moved.
Anything can happen, indeed.
“Sixty percent of the new 90 was in 13, which I’ll represent until Election Day,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot of familiar territory, but 40 percent of the district is new to me campaigning. But this area is where I grew up, a lot of my friends are in those precincts so it’s not completely unknown to me.”
Johnson is facing GOP challenger David “Pozy” Poczobut, a native Knoxvillian and political newcomer who works in real estate. Poczobut did not respond to requests for an interview. His website says he chose to run in District 90 after watching state and national politics and feeling “drawn to step up and fight for the freedoms of Tennesseans.”
“He believes Tennessee is the best state to live in, with low taxes, no state income tax, good economic growth, and last but not least, freedom loving people,” his website reads. “He is running because wants to keep Tennessee free, defend our faith and values, and bring effective leadership to the 90th district, which is unfortunately lacking right now.”
I'm very vocal on Twitter and when my colleagues say something that I think is not acceptable or that I disagree with, or they're talking about legislation that I don't like, I'm very vocal to say that I don't like it.
– Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville
Johnson has won and lost by small margins before, so she says she’s not taking anything for granted, especially in a new district. District 13 included almost all of South Knoxville whereas the new district stretches far west and doesn’t include any southern parts of the city. While Johnson says she’s used to the kinds of shifts that happen in redistricting, chopping through the suburban and urban areas downtown and getting to all the new precincts on a door-knocking campaign can be particularly challenging.
“When I first started, I won by like 300 votes,” Johnson said. “Then I lost by 180 and by 150, but I’ve also won by 2,500 and 1,500. In this area, you can’t assume it’s going to go one way or another.”
Both candidates ran unopposed in the primary: Johnson gathered nearly 3,700 votes in Knox County while just more than 2,000 Republican voters turned out for Poczobut. Knox County voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, though a larger percentage voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 than for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Thus far, Johnson has outraised Poczobut. In third quarter disclosures, she ended about $75,000 ahead of him.
“It’s a red county and we’ve got to talk to people and really change hearts and minds,” Johnson said. “And we’re out there trying to do it on doorsteps. I don’t think you do that with commercials and you don’t do that with mail, you know. It’s personal conversations on the doorstep with people to really find out what they care about.”
Johnson’s vocal nature online and on the House floor has landed her in uncomfortable positions before, she says, but often she says she can’t understand how disagreeing and talking about it makes her a bad guy.
“I’m very vocal on Twitter and when my colleagues say something that I think is not acceptable or that I disagree with, or they’re talking about legislation that I don’t like, I’m very vocal to say that I don’t like it and I think it’s bad for this or that reason,” Johnson said. “They sort of act like I’m doing something mean because I respond, but yet during campaigns they send the most ugly and heinous mail — like in the last cycle they literally sent a mail piece that was me covered in blood splatter.”
There are a couple routes progressive legislators can take on the hill — the GOP supermajority does not need a single Democrat’s vote to get a bill passed — and Johnson doesn’t tend toward a make-nice route. She says exactly what she means.
She said: “I just find the negative campaigning to be 10 times worse than me calling out a factual matter that happened on the floor, you know?”
It can be tough to pass any bills as a progressive legislator in the Tennessee General Assembly — Johnson has been stymied often in efforts. But she said she wants to stick around so she gives balance to some of the “really bad ideas” coming out of the assembly.
“We have issues that we could legislate on that everyone wants: Medicaid expansion is overwhelmingly supported on both sides of the aisle. Public education, not charters and vouchers, are overwhelmingly supported by both sides of the aisle. Raising the wage is overwhelmingly supported by both sides of the aisle. Cannabis reform is overwhelmingly supported by both sides of the aisle. Paid family leave is overwhelmingly supported by both sides of the aisle. … And yet it seems like they refuse to come to the table on any one of these issues.”
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