State Rep. Bryan Richey (R-TN) has denied accusations that the Tennessee House of Representatives voted to expel two Democratic lawmakers over their race, claiming the accusations are "political nonsense."
The Tennessee State House voted to expel state Reps. Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who are both black, over their recent protests in favor of gun reform on the House floor shortly after the Nashville school shooting. Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-TN), who is white and was almost expelled but was spared by one vote, said the House's vote not to expel her "may have to do with the color of our skin."
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“That’s political nonsense,” Richey said in an interview on CNN on Friday. “If anything, it was two energetic, youthful males that were a little bit more animated while they were up there. And Ms. Gloria Johnson, Representative Johnson, stood there, she, when they played the video. It clearly showed her standing there not doing as much, and I think that swayed other members to not vote for her. And that’s why she’s still there, had nothing to do with the color of their skin. I respect all three of them and their constituents that voted for them."
Richey, who voted against expelling Pearson and Johnson but voted in favor of expelling Jones, also said that while the protests by the three lawmakers were "a disrespect to our General Assembly," he did not believe that any of the three should have been expelled. However, he and Jones had spoken ahead of the expulsion vote, and Jones had told him "he wanted to be kicked out" due to his growing following.
"He’s getting all this national exposure, and that the Metro City Council had already said that they were going to reappoint him back to the General Assembly," said Richey. "So, I was honoring his wishes and voting for him, but I didn't think that any of them should end up getting kicked out, even though it was warranted based on the letter of the law.”
The resolution to expel Jones passed with a 72-25 vote, and the resolution to expel Pearson passed with a 69-26 vote. Jones claimed the actions of he and his fellow lawmakers "broke the glass" and disrupted the peace to advocate the lives of their constituents, calling out a Republican lawmaker who claimed the three lawmakers disturbed the "sacred chamber" of the House.
"This is not a temple," Jones said. "This is a place where we are supposed to wrestle for our democracy."
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The protest by the trio, which occurred on March 30, came only days after a shooting at Covenant Christian School took place on March 27. The shooting by Audrey Hale, 28, a biological female who identified as transgender, left three students and three staff members killed.
On Monday, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department released a list of 47 items it found that belonged to Hale, including several journals, a shotgun, cellphones, and laptops, as well as a suicide note. The details of the note are unknown.