Williamson Co. rep urges Democrats to sanction trio for House floor “stunt,” or GOP will

Rep. Sam Whitson said the expulsion of Reps. Johnson, Jones and Pearsons would make them martyrs. Instead, he urged the Democratic Caucus to punish them, or Republicans could take severe action.

By: - April 3, 2023 11:11 am
Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin. (Photo: Submitted)

Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin. (Photo: Submitted)

State Rep. Sam Whitson is calling for the House Democratic Caucus to punish three members for pulling what he calls a House floor “stunt” amid protests for tighter gun laws.

“I believe expulsion will make them martyrs and they will be re-elected or reappointed immediately, so I think the Democratic leadership and caucus should be held responsible for this incident, and if not then we will hold the Democratic Caucus responsible for tolerating such conduct,” Whitson, a Franklin Republican and retired Army colonel, said Monday morning. “But I’m at a point if they pull this again, I’m for immediate expulsion. And this has nothing to do with the protest. This has all to do with their actions on the House floor.”

Whitson, a retired colonel, called their protest a “stunt” aimed at drawing attention to themselves and one that he believes could have hurt their cause of gun restrictions.

Gov. Bill Lee is to hold a press conference at 1 p.m. today with legislative leaders to discuss policy in the wake of The Covenant School shooting in which six people were killed by a gunman who was later shot by police.

Reps. Justin Jones, right, Justin Pearson, bottom, and Gloria Johnson, left, bring a megaphone onto the Tennessee House floor on March 30, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Reps. Justin Jones, right, Justin Pearson, bottom, and Gloria Johnson, left, bring a megaphone onto the Tennessee House floor on March 30, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Reps. Justin J. Pearson, Justin Jones and Gloria Johnson led a protest on the House floor Thursday with Pearson and Jones using a megaphone to exhort crowds in the balcony to disrupt the proceedings.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton, who had asked the gallery crowd to be quiet several times and had told Pearson and Jones to stick to the rules, called a five-minute recess that lasted nearly an hour as Republican and Democratic leadership tried to figure out how to handle the situation.

Sexton and other leaders are believed to have been ready to expel the trio, but when they returned to the chamber Sexton only told them their behavior was unacceptable.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons of Nashville, though, said Republicans had their own members who avoided punishment for worse behavior. He pointed toward Rep. Paul Sherrell, who suggested reviving lynching as a form of capital punishment this year, former Rep. Glen Casada, who was indicted on fraud charges, and former Rep. David Byrd, who declined to deny allegations he had inappropriate contact with girls he coached at Wayne County High School in the 1980s.

“And they’re wanting to punish three elected individuals who simply disrupted a House floor session for speaking their mind? If they’re gonna start punishing people, they need to look in the mirror and look in their own caucus,” Clemmons said.

Last week, Sexton went on the Hal show on 98.7 FM and characterized the incident as an “insurrection” comparable to or worse than the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol. Sexton’s comments came as conservative commentators like Clay Travis attempted to conflate the protest with the storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Over the weekend Sexton’s office, who so far hasn’t issued a public statement following the radio interview, clarified that Sexton was referring to Democratic members’ conduct as an insurrection, not the protests.

His comments brought a firestorm of criticism from people who pointed out the protesters were mostly high school students and parents demanding tougher gun laws after three students and three adults were shot to death early in the week at The Covenant School in Green Hills.

Republicans could block all Democratic bills if no action is taken by the caucus

Whitson, who contends the actions of Pearson, Jones and Johnson cannot be “the new norm,” said Republicans could punish Democrats by not considering any of their bills or making other procedural maneuvers.

Clemmons was to meet Monday with Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison to discuss the matter.

“If they want to make this a bigger deal than it has to be, then I guess we’ll have to respond,” Clemmons added.

Whitson said the House could take action on the trio, including expulsion if they disrupt the House again, or removal from committees, relocation of their offices and limited access to the Cordell Hull Building and Capitol.

However, he said he had not spoken to Sexton about his characterization of last Thursday’s Capitol protest as an “insurrection.”

Sexton tweeted Sunday that while some Democrats consider the trio’s actions “good trouble” and said they shouldn’t be disciplined, “these actions are a blatant disregard for house rules & toward the Sgt. At Arms.”

House Minority Leader Karen Camper and veteran Rep. Joe Towns chastised Jones and Pearson after their disruption Thursday, but Camper later softened her tone and called it “good trouble.”

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.