Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson, a gun safety advocate who rose to prominence as one of the so-called “Tennessee Three,” has announced that she’s running for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Marsha Blackburn.
The Tennessee state lawmaker launched her campaign on Tuesday near Knoxville’s Central High School, where she was a special education teacher and a survivor of a 2008 shooting that left one student dead. Johnson is expected to appear in Nashville and Memphis later in the day.
“I’m tired of Tennessee families being betrayed by those that represent them, over and over and over,” Johnson said at the event, referring to the state legislature’s recent special session that ended last week with no resolutions on gun control.
Johnson was one of the three Tennessee Democrats who gained national attention in March after joining gun safety protesters on the House floor in response to the mass shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville. Three children and three adults were shot dead at The Covenant School, resulting in an uproar over the state’s gun laws.
Freshman Democratic state Reps. Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, both of whom are Black, were expelled from the House by the mostly white GOP caucus in April before being reinstated and then reclaiming their seats in a special election last month. Johnson narrowly avoided expulsion and has said that she was spared because she’s white.
Pearson is a co-chair for Johnson’s campaign, which puts a heavy focus on gun reform and abortion rights.
“I know fighting for justice has a cost. I learned that firsthand as a little girl when I had to sleep in the hallway instead of my bedroom to avoid being shot because my dad had the courage to bring the KKK to justice,” Johnson said in her campaign announcement video. Her father was an FBI special agent who helped investigate the Klan’s activity in the Deep South.
She added that other politicians “don’t like me much because I speak my mind. And when it’s bullshit, I call it bullshit.”
Johnson has had a roller-coaster political career after being elected to the state House in 2012. She lost reelection in 2014, only to reclaim her seat four years later. She then won reelection in 2020 but faced new congressional district lines redrawn by her GOP colleagues. The lawmaker moved and won in her new district last year.
The candidate told Knox News that she had planned to run for U.S. Senate before becoming one of the Tennessee Three. The state has not been represented by a Democrat in the Senate since 1995.
Blackburn’s campaign released a statement in response to Johnson’s announcement, calling her a “radial socialist” who entered the race “at the urging of liberals in Washington.”
“State Rep. Johnson is as woke as they come, and she would be a puppet for Joe Biden, the Squad, and [Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer in the Senate,” said Blackburn campaign spokesperson Abigail Sigler.
“While Senator Blackburn is working hard to fight back against Biden’s woke agenda, State Rep. Johnson is pushing that divisive, destructive agenda here in Tennessee,” Sigler added. “Woke,” a term originally used to describe people who are aware of social injustices, has become a buzzword that conservatives have co-opted to disparage their opponents.
In her campaign video, Johnson went after Blackburn’s support for a federal abortion ban and her vote against lowering prescription drug costs.
“We deserve health care and prescriptions that don’t make us go broke. We deserve the freedom to make our own choices with our bodies,” the Democrat said. “And most importantly, we deserve a leader with the courage to stand up to extremists and billionaires that have taken over our system. That person ain’t Marsha Blackburn, but it is me.”