Expulsion effort yields fast fundraising for Johnson support in Knox County
Knox County Democrats raise $10,000 in just over 48 hours for Rep. Gloria Johnson’s legal defense or special election; Knox GOP weighs in
Democratic Reps. Justin Pearson, Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones at a Monday press conference on Monday, April 3, 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Republican attempts to punish Tennessee Rep. Gloria Johnson D-Knoxville have led to quick fundraising success for Knox County Democrats, who are putting together a fund to support her.
Matt Shears, chair of the Knox County Democratic Party, said that his party raised over $10,000 since Monday night. The money will be for Johnson in the event she is expelled and runs in a special election and can also be used for protests and, if necessary, legal representation for Johnson.
The fundraising push came after members of the Tennessee House voted 72-23 along party lines on a resolution to consider expulsion of Johnson and two other Democrats — Reps. Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis— on Thursday when the House goes into session again.
“To take away the voice of 70,000 voters is entirely anti-democratic and reeks of immoral politics,” Shears said of the expulsion move.
Johnson won her last election by 18 points
The Knox Democrats will be traveling by bus to Nashville on Thursday, April 6, to show support for Johnson.
Johnson told Knoxville area media outlets that she broke a procedural rule when coming to the House well with the other two lawmakers to speak without official recognition.
“I broke that rule in order to fight for Tennessee’s children, Tennessee’s teachers, Tennessee’s churches,” she told local NBC affiliate WBIR.
Shears defended Johnson staying in the State House.
“She did break House rules, but that does not warrant being expelled from the House,” he said. “Breaking decorum does not mean you should silence 70,000 Knox County voters. There are other ways to discipline besides that.”
The resolutions to expel the three Democrats for their actions during a Thursday protest for gun regulations were sponsored by Republican Reps. Andrew Farmer of Sevierville, Gino Bulso of Brentwood and Bud Hulsey of Kingsport.
My personal thoughts are they violated the rules of conduct of the house and for that they should have some form of punishment.
– Buddy Burkhardt, chair, Knox County Republican Party
Knox County Republican Party Chair Buddy Burkhardt took issue with the Knox Democrats’ fundraising efforts.
“I don’t ever plan to use another person’s improper behavior as a tool to capitalize the party platform,” he said, adding the Knox GOP plans to run a candidate for Johnson’s seat in the next election.
“My personal thoughts are they violated the rules of conduct of the house and for that they should have some form of punishment,” Burkhardt said of the three Democrats. He deferred to House Speaker Cameron Sexton of Crossville to decide what that punishment might be.
Sexton has called the three lawmakers’ actions an “insurrection,” a charge they deny.
The chair of the Anderson County Republican party, Myra Mansfield, used language that echoed Sexton’s in an email to the Tennessee Lookout.
“If Jan. 6 (U.S. Capitol insurrection) was a violation of the People’s house, then likewise is this situation. Johnson and the two others planned this, brought a public protest into a place where it did not belong, and purposefully violated the rules,” she stated.
Chairs of both Knox County parties weighed in on another incident from Monday night, the alleged assault of Jones by Knox County Republican Justin Lafferty.
“Justin Lafferty assaulted Justin Jones on the House floor last night, and if anyone should be expelled it should be Lafferty,” Shears said. Jones and others have accused Lafferty of grabbing Jones’ phone and shoving him. A video, shared by national outlets including Newsweek shows the confrontation, and Jones has filed a police report against Lafferty.
“I have a different version of the Jones/Lafferty confrontation. If the eyewitness version is correct Lafferty was reacting to a situation,” said Burkhardt. “If he did wrong, then he should have a punishment also,” he said.
Shears said the Knox County Democratic Party takes no position on gun laws. He expressed appreciation for Johnson and protestors’ amplifying the issue.
“We’ve seen thousands of young people come and demand that something be done to stop the bloodshed, and up to this point there’s still been nothing done,” Shears said.
But Burhkardt was clear.
“Guns are not the problem. We need to enforce the laws we have effectively,” he said. “Enforce the laws we have and a registry for persons under psychiatric care to prevent them from purchasing guns legally. Illegal sales are still illegal sales.”
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