Who am I?
Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Knox County schoolteacher with 26 years experience educating special needs children, represents District 13 in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Carried to victory in 2012 by fighting for Democratic values and tapping the energy of grassroots citizens, Gloria has won the respect of her colleagues and the admiration of families across the state.
Her first year in office was a busy one. Gloria's freshman efforts — advocating for schools, women's healthcare, good-paying jobs and protections for mountains — prompted a Knoxville paper to say, “she’s considered by her party’s leaders to be one of the best freshmen legislators in modern memory.” (http://www.metropulse.com/news/2014/jan/08/getting-gloria-johnson-targeted-state-republicans/).
Gloria has dedicated herself to making sure that children, working families, seniors, teachers and all Tennesseans have a voice at the legislature.
The endless patience and boundless energy Gloria draws from for her political work is also put to work in her professional life as a special education teacher.
For years Gloria has taught student at schools in State House District 13, including South Doyle High School, where she led efforts to help the school earn the distinction of "School of Promise" in connection with America’s Promise and Knoxville’s Promise.
Gloria knows Knox County schools because she graduated from Knox County schools. Upon graduation from Farragut High School, Gloria attended the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, where she earned her degree in education. Within two weeks of graduation, she began teaching at Mooreland Heights Elementary School and has loved every year she has been teaching since.
Though her family has been in East Tennessee for generations, Gloria was born in Colorado. Her family moved to California and then to Mississippi for her father's work as a Special Agent with the FBI. By the seventh grade, Gloria's family was transferred back to Knoxville as was their hope.
In 2000, Gloria made the difficult decision to seek a unique opportunity in Denver, Colo. at Dakota Ridge High School working with students with emotional disabilities, including some who had been affected by the Columbine tragedy. After initiating the program, Gloria earned an award for “Valuing Students” in the Jefferson County School System, one of the largest school systems in the country.
After spending three years in Colorado, Gloria returned to Knoxville to help with her aging parents. She immediately returned to Knox County Schools, this time at Central High School in Fountain City.
Back in Knoxville, Gloria discovered that, in addition to her love of travel and live music, she had a passion for politics. In 2008 she trained on weekends in South Carolina with some of the Barack Obama campaign’s best field organizers and returned to Knoxville to organize 700 active volunteers to work in Knox County and travel to bordering states.
In 2009 Gloria was elected chairwoman of the Knox County Democratic Party. Her experience organizing for the Obama campaign injected energy into Knox County Democrats and helped build the party district by district. Gloria was re-elected chairwoman in 2011.
Why am I running?
In 2010, the Tennessee General Assembly switched to Republican control for the first time in more than century. Since that time, our state has seen repeated attacks on working families and those who are struggling while the GOP writes new rules that favor special interests, gives huge tax breaks to wealthy Tennesseans and hands out hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare.
The result? While the rest of the country has been getting back to work, in Tennessee, our unemployment rates have increased.
For several years, Tennessee has been the epicenter of a well-financed attack on public schools — and legislators who support them — from Michelle Rhee’s Students First, K-12 Inc. for-profit virtual schools and other corporate reform groups.
As a public schoolteacher, Gloria saw firsthand the ill effect of this misguided obsession with top-down policies that shortchange students, over emphasize unproductive high-states testing and disrespect veteran teachers.
After seeing teachers lose their collective bargaining rights, their tenure, and their seat at the table concerning retirement, it became clear that a strong teacher's voice was needed in the Tennessee legislature.
Gloria decided that complaining about the wrongs being done wouldn’t change anything. So she prepared to take action and decided to run for State Representative in District 13.
She ran to be a voice for students, working families and the teachers in my district. Gloria saw the damage Republican policies were having on their families and the middle class.
She talks a lot about education because she’s a teacher, but also because she knows that education is the engine that drives our economy. Winning the good-paying jobs of the future requires a workforce with a world-class education. Gloria knows our students and economy will suffer if, we, as a state, can’t recruit and retain teachers who can help students achieve their potential.
Gloria also knows how important is for people who’ve lost their insurance to have a voice at the legislature. Affordable healthcare is key to building a stronger middle class. In the richest country in the world, citizens should be able to go to the doctor if they get sick or into an accident — without the worry of financial ruin.
So far, Tennessee’s governor has chosen to reject Medicaid expansion and our citizens and hospitals are suffering due to this blatant political decision.
Gloria is fighting to expand Medicaid to insure 300,000 of our most vulnerable citizens. In addition to saving lives, Medicaid expansion will infuse more than a billion dollars a year into Tennessee’s healthcare economy, saving rural hospitals, supporting small businesses and creating jobs Tennessee desperately needs.
My top three policy goals are creating good-paying jobs, strengthening our schools, and expanding access to healthcare.
On the economy:
Tennessee is going backwards in unemployment. This session I have a bill that supports Tennessee workers by asking companies hired for in-state contracts to hire local workers. Unfortunately, that is not currently the case in our state. I will also be supporting reforms that focus tax cuts on small businesses, the engine of jobs, and a bill to increase the minimum wage in Tennessee.
I will be offering legislation to encourage the “community school” movement across the state. We have a Community Schools program in my county and we are seeing improved attendance, improved grades, increased parental involvement, and even a decrease in vandalism in the community. I will also be opposing any voucher or state charter authorizer legislation. Community schools take a holistic approach to improving student achievement, which vouchers attempt to address, however, community schools reforms have the research to show actual success, something voucher research is not able to show.
After a recent cut to teacher salaries, many school systems will have a difficult time competing for teachers as they will be unable to enhance the barebones state pay scale. To address their need, I have legislation to start a scholarship for rural teachers who commit to remain in their county to teach for the number of years they receive the scholarship. Instead of investing millions in out-of-state organizations that only recruit untested college graduates to teach in urban areas, I believe we should be investing in career teachers from Tennessee.
My third area of focus is to expand Medicaid. I know healthcare is key to building a stronger middle class, and I have been working on this issue as a volunteer and as Knox County Democratic Party Chair since the legislation was proposed by President Obama and the Democrats. I have organized and attended rallies in my county and across the state in support of the Affordable Care Act. I have held forums and other earned media events surrounding this issue.
I use every chance I get to talk about the virtues of Medicaid expansion and the hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans, who would be able to see a doctor and get the health care they need, if we move forward with expansion. This session, I have legislation to accept the federal funding to expand Medicaid.
My DFA Values
My father worked for the FBI at a difficult time in our nation’s history. When I was a child, my father’s work took our family to the Mississippi, where he investigated hate crimes.
It was a dangerous job and our family received multiple threats to our safety. But it was also an important job.
My father never blinked in his service to our community and our country. He knew how important it was to fight for security, equality and fair treatment for all families.
These values helped shape who I am. Dad showed me that our country is at its best when we are expanding the rights of Americans, not taking them away.
While I’m not a FBI agent protecting our civil rights, I do try to live up to these values in my work and everyday life.
For instance, I became a teacher because I wanted to make a positive difference in the lives students -- no matter their background. A good education lays the foundation for opportunity and a more equal, fair and secure society.
I ran for the state legislature because it felt like the politicians running the state of Tennessee forgot — or just plain ignored — these values.
My Campaign is People Powered!
My campaign is truly people powered! In 2008 with zero political experience, I volunteered for the Barack Obama campaign. Their master organizers taught me how to recruit and empower people in the community to take action. I was proud to have recruited more than 700 people that year to work their neighborhoods and communities in swing states to support the presidential campaign.
When I began my own campaign for office, it was only natural that I use the tools I learned volunteering for President Obama.
In 2012 our campaign for state house had a goal of 30,000 personal contacts by door knock or phone call, and we easily exceeded that goal. Knowing we will have a well-funded opponent in 2014, we plan to increase the number of personal contacts to 40,000 this election.
To help us hit that goal, I am reaching out to teachers in my district and across the state, educator to educator. Teachers in Tennessee are frustrated with the attacks on professional educators over the last few years, as well as the corporate privatization efforts by Tennessee’s GOP supermajority.
Our campaign is working closely with Jobs for Justice of East Tennessee and the Highlander Center to help teachers organize and fight back. In December, I led a group of more than 100 teachers in calling for changes to school policy in Knox County.
For more than a year, our campaign has been organizing citizens interested in ending the destructive practice of mountain top removal in our beautiful state. The majority of Tennesseans support this bill because they know how important Tennessee’s mountains are to our heritage and our economy. But wealthy special interests and corporate lobbyists seem to be pulling the strings so far.
Surface mining employed 180 people last year and tourism employed 300,000. Our mountains are an invaluable asset to our state’s economy, and the math seems pretty simple to me. That’s why we’ve been working so hard to bring the people's voice to he forefront on this issue.
Lastly, this year Tennessee’s ballot will include a Constitutional Amendment that chips away at Roe v. Wade and would be detrimental to women's access to healthcare. Instead of protecting the private relationship between a woman, her family and her doctor, this amendment strips away privacy and put legislators in charge of a woman's healthcare decisions. I am working with women and concerned stakeholders across Tennessee to make sure we protect a woman's right to private health decisions made by herself and her doctor.
These are only a few ways I am reaching out to engage the progressive grassroots in Tennessee.