Majority Whip Johnny Garrett Explains Tennessee House Roles and 2024 Legislative Agenda

Nov 30, 2022

Live from Music Row, Wednesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Tennessee House of Representatives Majority Whip Johnny Garrett to the newsmaker line to describe the roles of legislators and the 2024 legislative agenda.

Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line right now by our favorite majority whip, State Representative Johnny Garrett from Goodlettsville. Good morning, Representative Garrett.

Garrett: Good morning. How are you today?

Leahy: I’m great. Last week, Johnny, I think that the leadership was reelected to the Tennessee House of Representatives. Let me just kind of go through the current leadership and then tell our listeners what each of these folks does in their job.

Speaker Cam Sexton of Crossville was re-elected as Speaker. William Lambert of Portland was re-elected as majority leader. Jeremy Faison of Cosby was reelected as caucus Chair and you were reelected as Majority Whip. Starting with the Speaker. Tell us briefly, what the Speaker does, what does Majority Leader does, and so on down the pike.

Garrett: Absolutely. Our Speaker, obviously, he’ll be re-elected when we dabble back into the actual House body re-elects or elects the Speaker and he runs the House floor. He is up on the dais.

If you ever tune in on TV and want to watch the live action of what the people’s House does, he leads the House in that effort. He also appoints the committee chairman, the Vice Chairman, and appoints the folks which committees they actually serve on where the legislation starts.

Primarily our Speaker’s job is to lead the House and lead its order throughout each legislative session. And I believe Speaker Sexton does a fantastic job because since I’ve been there it has been very smooth and that’s due to his leadership team and he does a wonderful job.

Leahy: Now, what does the majority leader William Lambert, what does the majority leader do?

Garrett: The Majority Leader is, of course, he’s elected by our particular caucus. The Democratic caucus will also have a minority leader. And he is responsible for shepherding the governor’s legislation through the House. He doesn’t necessarily carry all the bills, even though he is the main sponsor.

He also chooses other legislators to carry that particular administration bill, etc. on behalf of the governor. But he shepherd’s that along with our new Assistant Majority Leader, Mark Cochran, who was elected at our leadership meeting last week.

And so that’s his primary goal is to communicate between the governor’s staff and the House members on legislation that the governor is supporting. And then what we need to maybe tweak it a little bit, make it better for our members and let them know where the House will stand on the potential administration’s legislation.

Leahy: What’s the difference between what Jeremy Faison and does as Caucus Chair and what you do as Majority Whip?

Garrett: He basically presides when we meet as a caucus. We had our caucus retreat last week. He organized that. His staff helps us prepare for particular legislation coming down the pike for any type of policy issues that we need to look upon and understand.

And he does that and also he leaves us in a sense of sort of you can’t ever get away from politics when we’re in this particular job that we all enjoy and he leads a little bit of that effort as well. So it’s a huge responsibility.

Jeremy does a great job, and I enjoy working with him. My job particularly as a whip, I am head of sort of two jobs, I guess. I’m the head of our caucus campaign committee, and we are involved in campaigns as a caucus when we are in a general election.

And I’m also in charge of our campaign committee for fundraising and for our caucus. And then when we go into session, the word whip comes from well, whipping the votes, right?

So if we’ve got legislation that’s on the floor and a member is in the well or is about to be in the well to present his particular legislation and all of a sudden we need a whip count of do we have enough votes to pass it.

In the House, it takes 50 votes to pass it. And so I am passed or charged with the task to figure out how the votes are on the floor. So that’s how I go in with the vote and see where people are on particular legislation.

Sometimes that’s done literally while the members are in the well or right before. I get a little bit of a heads up, hey, Johnny, we need a whip count on this. And we may not be on the floor for a couple of hours, and I got a little more time to kind of whip the vote to see where we are.

Leahy: So there are two styles to being the majority whip in any state legislature or in the House of Representatives. There is the iron fist style and there’s the velvet glove. Which is our general approach or do you use different styles depending on the vote?

Garrett: I would say it’s a good hybrid, right. As part of our leadership team, there’s not something that leadership says, hey, we got to have you here. This is what you got to do. And then I’m that person that goes and communicates that word.

That’s not particularly the way that we or I handle this particular job. A lot of times it becomes that in a little bit of a way because they’ll ask me what the legislation does and want a little bit more influence or a little bit more explanation.

And I try to be very neutral in how I explain that. So when I ask for their vote, I’m not trying to influence which way they’re going. All I’m trying to do is say, hey, where are you? And if you don’t know yet, fine. I got to understand it.

We’ll have you down as that I don’t know, so to speak so we know where the I don’t knows are. Sometimes we have a block of votes that we don’t know where that is. And I communicate that to the member.

And it’s up to them whether or not, hey, I’m going to roll this for maybe a day or I’m going to take this off notice, so to speak, and try to work those numbers a little bit more to see where they are, to see if we can vote count up or vote countdown depending on where that lands. It’s a very fun process for me.

Leahy: Yes. I suspect that when and if the iron fist is required to accomplish the goal, I think you’re probably very adept at using it.

Garrett: I do have some persuasive characteristics. (Laughter)

Leahy: Hey, speaking of that, what are the big agenda items for the Tennessee General Assembly, when it convenes in January?

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Reporwith Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Johnny Garrett” by Johnny Garrett.