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 TN-5 Republican candidate Beth Harwell to the newsmaker line to discuss her commitment, if elected, to a maximum 6-year term and slowly dismantling the Department of Education, bringing money back to local governments in the state.
Leahy: We are joined on the newsmaker line with a new breaking story. Former speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Beth Harwell. Good morning, Beth.
Harwell: Good morning. Good to be with you all this morning.
Leahy: So you have just released a statement that you have endorsed the U.S. term limits amendment and you pledge to serve if elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, a maximum of three terms. Tell us about that.
Harwell: Right. I served in the Tennessee Legislature, which is indeed a citizen legislature. It’s a part-time job. You can’t make a living serving in the state legislature, which means you have to find another job.
And I’ve always been a teacher, and I think that’s critical. People that serve in the legislature in Tennessee don’t visit their districts. They live in their districts and they live under the laws that they pass for everyone else.
That’s not the case in Washington, D.C. And that’s why I’m committed to serving for just six years. In eight years, we were able to accomplish great things for the state of Tennessee as Speaker. And I will serve six years and vote the will of the people and then come back home.
Leahy: How did you come to this decision to make this announcement that you’re just going to serve three terms, if elected, you’re a candidate for the Republican nomination to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives in the new 5th Congressional District, which covers the lower third of Davidson County, the western half of Wilson, the eastern half of Williamson County, all of Marshall, all of Maury, and all of Lewis County. How did you come to this decision?
Harwell: I’ve always felt that this was the correct thing to do to limit your time and service. I held back for many years because I was fearful that it would make the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C., more powerful. And we certainly don’t want that.
But I also think that it incentivizes us to go up there and do the right thing and do it quickly because we don’t as a nation have much more time in which we can allow elected officials in Washington to just not get the job done. So I think this is the right time to make a pledge such as this.
Leahy: Now, what’s it been like for you out on the campaign trail? We saw each other at the Wilson County Trump Day Dinner on Thursday.
There are 11 candidates there. You were one of the 11. You got to speak there. What are you seeing out on the campaign trail?
Harwell: Well, people are interested in this. I think, just as I’ve heard on your radio show this morning, I think people also are concerned with getting the May election over with before they start concentrating on what will be the August election.
But like today, I will spend my day in Lewis County and have a lot of good folks taking me around Lewis County to meet and greet and get to know people a little bit better. People are concerned about the direction of our nation.
They are very concerned with the high cost of living right now. They’re concerned with protecting our borders and I think what I hear consistently is that they feel that the fiscal insanity that they see in Washington, D.C. has got to come to an end.
Leahy: What would be the very first bill that you would introduce if you were to be elected to serve in Congress and would be sworn in in January of 2023?
Harwell: Something that’s been a passion of mine for some time now is the whole issue of education, which is such a critical thing for our nation going forward.
I know I can’t completely eliminate the U.S. Department of Education at least as a freshman at first blush. But I think I could begin to reduce the size of it and return that money back to state and local governments where it can be more efficiently and effectively spent.
Leahy: It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you introduced a bill to entirely abolish the Department of Education.
Harwell: It would be my ultimate goal. You’re right about that, and I certainly understand how the process works, and I might very well do that and take what I can get, because I do think the U.S. Department of Education is bloated and is not doing anything to help our children.
Leahy: It’s interesting the way that you phrase that because you could either go in and say, let’s abolish it entirely. That bill would probably not get a lot of traction the first term or, I guess you’re taking a more incremental approach by saying let’s reduce its footprint and let’s give that money back to the state. Is that your approach on that one?
Harwell: That is correct. I’m realistic about this. I know that they administer the Pell Grants and some other things at the federal level, but slowly we can return those responsibilities back to the state governments or the local governments, as opposed to having the federal bureaucrats who, by the way, never teach a single child how to read or write.
Leahy: We are joined in studio by the former speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Beth Harwell. Beth, it is really great to have you in studio.
Harwell: Thank you. It’s good to be here. It truly is.
Leahy: When you were a speaker, we just didn’t have the opportunity for an extended conversation because that’s a pretty hectic job from what I can tell.
Harwell: It is. It is. It’s a great job. I enjoyed it tremendously, worked hard at it, and wanted us to have a successful state government and always tried to be a speaker, unlike the one we have at the national level, Nancy Pelosi. Whatever she was doing, I tried to do the opposite. (Laughs)
Leahy: Don’t even get me started on her. Let’s talk a little bit about your career. You were born in Pennsylvania.
Leahy: Moved here to Nashville to attend David Lipscomb.
Harwell: That’s correct.
Leahy: Did you along the way, when you graduated from Lipscomb, did you get a Ph.D.?
Harwell: I did. From Vandy. And I have taught for a number of years at Belmont University science and government and how that is.
Leahy: What was your Ph.D. in?
Harwell: Political science. And I enjoyed teaching, especially at the college level. Teaching young people about the basics of government and the history of our great nation. And that’s something that’s lacking in our curriculum today.
Leahy: You think? (Laughs) I don’t know if you know this. We do a National Constitution Bee here. We have a little foundation and we do it and the winners get educational scholarships. Claudia Henneberry now is our executive director for that. We’re going to do it again in October in Brentwood.
Leahy: And you’re more than welcome to attend. Maybe we’ll talk you into being a judge.
Harwell: There you go.
Leahy: But what we found is most public schools – is – that I think they’d rather teach Critical Race Theory than the Constitution.
Harwell: Isn’t that sad?
Leahy: It really is sad.
Harwell: We’re taking a generation of young people and teaching them to be embarrassed that they’re Americans instead of proud of being American.
Everybody knows the country has its flaws, but there’s no other country in the world that I see people fleeing, trying to get into like they are the United States.
Leahy: Well, illegals, according to the Tucker Carlson report, last night, we’ve had one million illegal aliens cross the border into the United States since January, and since the legal but not legitimate current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue took office.
Harwell: I saw that segment last night.
Leahy: Did you see that segment?
Harwell: Yes. And I thought to myself, he’s spot-on on two things. Number one, what they find administrations doing is illegal.
They don’t have the authority to do what they’re doing. And two, when you don’t have your borders, you don’t have a country. And we’re losing our borders. It’s scary.
Leahy: The specifics that Tucker Carlson uncovered and reported since, is that in January of this year, the U.S. Air Force, the military from Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas has been flying unvaccinated illegal aliens who haven’t been tested for COVID into the heartland of America.
Some of them apparently have been flown in the dark of night into Tennessee, among other places.
Harwell: And they have the footage of it. And we know that it’s happening. What we all have to be aware of is citizens, and no one wants to be cruel, but on the other hand, this is a tremendous burden on our economy. These people come here and they have to be educated. They don’t have work. You’ve got to provide health care. It is a true burden on the state government as well as the federal government. But we can’t afford it. We simply can’t.
Leahy: And while you were a speaker back in 2015, I believe the House and the Senate passed a resolution basically suing the federal government on Tenth Amendment grounds on the NFIB Sebelius case that said it was taking from the citizens of Tennessee to force them to pay for all these benefits for illegal aliens placed here, though not illegally. But through the refugee program that they didn’t want.
Harwell: Right. I absolutely believe that was a valid lawsuit. The Tenth Amendment reserves the rights to the states, not the federal government. And we’ve got this reverse. We’ve allowed the federal government to get way too powerful. And that was never the intention of our founding fathers.
Leahy: Federal courts threw the case out. And I think it was because they said that the Tennessee General Assembly didn’t have standing because the governor at first was Governor Bill Haslam. And then it was Governor Bill Lee who refused to sign on to the lawsuit. Do I have that right?
Harwell: I believe that is correct. And that was a disappointment because I really did think the legislature had taken the right step.
Leahy: Did you have a conversation with then-Governor Haslam and say, you know, you ought to sign on to this. How did he respond?
Harwell: He’s a wonderful man. He was a very good governor for our state. He just philosophically disagreed with us on this. As did Governor Lee. I mean, Governor Lee could have had the opportunity under President Trump to get us out of it as well. And he didn’t.
Leahy: Yeah. That really rankles me, by the way. It was a big mistake on their part. That was a very significant thing that you did there as speaker. When were you first elected to the Tennessee House Representatives?
Harwell: 1988. So a long time. I was speaker for eight years.
Leahy: You were a speaker from 2011-2019. That’s a long time as speaker.
Harwell: Right. It’s a political position, and it’s a tough territory. The House is unique. It’s a rowdy body. But again, I wouldn’t have done anything else. I enjoyed it tremendously.
Leahy: And the House seems to be more active and the Senate is sort of laid back and staid, shall we say. (Laughter)
Leahy: In studio with us, our friend, former Tennessee Speaker of the House, Beth Harwell. Beth, so you’ve had quite a career after eight years of speaker.
You ran for governor, didn’t win the primary. You haven’t been goofing off ever since. (Harwell chuckles) What have you been doing?
Harwell: Well, I’ve been doing a few things. I do a little bit of teaching at Middle Tennessee State University. It’s very important to me that the next generation learn about the government and its history and are proud of it.
Leahy: So I didn’t know you were teaching at MTSU.
Harwell: Well, I don’t teach full time. I just go on and do lectures and about – just a visiting professor.
Leahy: Where do you teach? What do you teach?
Harwell: It’s usually in the honors program in the political science department.
Leahy: And so are these, like, small classes, big classes?
Harwell: We did a democracy project that I participated in. They’re trying as a school to engage young people. And we desperately need young people to be engaged.
But we need to have them, well-informed young people, before they engage. That’s the key there.
Leahy: Not propagandized little community activists.
Harwell: Exactly right. And then I also serve in the Tennessee Valley Authority Board, a number of other boards here in Nashville – Montgomery Bell Academy and KIPP Academy.
Leahy: Montgomery Bell Academy and KIPP. Oh boy. The Metro National Public School Board hates them because they’re a charter school.
Harwell: Well, they’re doing an excellent job. I know they helped a lot of kids through the pandemic. They’ve been involved in these young people’s life. And that’s just been a sharp contrast in which I’m very proud of them for what they’re doing.
Leahy: Do you like serving on the Tennessee Valley Authority Board?
Harwell: You know, it’s a challenge because it’s outside of my true area of expertise.
Leahy: You’re not an expert necessarily on energy.
Harwell: I’m not a physicist or specialist but I’m learning a lot. And I tell you, Tennessee Valley Authority does a lot of great things for the Appalachian area.
I’m learning more about them every day. But the one thing I appreciate is they do keep our rates relatively low. We can always be lower.
But they are low compared to other places. But more importantly, you saw what happened in Texas. TVA has a diversified portfolio that I really think serves the public well.
Leahy: Well, it’s interesting because we had on this program yesterday, State Representative Chris Todd. You probably know Chris from Jackson. Great guy.
Chris told us that here the group of 15 states from the South, their state legislatures convened. He was part of that group.
And he said they got a presentation from TVA and told them how they had set up redundancy and resilience so they didn’t have the kind of problem Texas did.
Harwell: Right. And that’s good management. We can be very proud of that.
Leahy: Well, that’s good. That’s good. So is it more relaxing not to be the speaker of the House? Are you goofing off more? Are you going out to dinner more?
Harwell: Of course I’m definitely doing my walking and doing a little more reading other than political things.
Leahy: What are you reading?
Harwell: You know what? I have a whole spectrum of books I read. I’m reading right now a book called Someone’s Daughter that someone let me borrow. And it’s actually good. So I like a diversity of books.
Leahy: I recommend a book for you. I just discovered this writer, Conrad Richter. R-I-C-H-T-E-R. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for the third part of a trilogy.
And the third part of the trilogy was called – a book called – The Town. The first part was The Trees. The second part was The Fields.
It was a story. Wait for it … of a 15-year-old girl and her family who in 1795 left a little town in Eastern Pennsylvania and walked to Ohio. And it’s about their life from 1795 to 1860.
Harwell: That sounds fascinating.
Leahy: It’s really great. And it’s part of a trilogy called The Awakening Land. I just discovered this. It’s a great book, and I really enjoyed it. Beth, for the big question. The big question. What’s in your future?
Harwell: Well, Michael Patrick, first, I want to thank you for letting me be on here. It was nice and reminisce with you a little bit. (Leahy laughs) We go way back.
Leahy: We do go way back. And it’s interesting because we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we are always were friendly.
Harwell: Absolutely. Always able to talk and discuss things.
Leahy: This is the way to do it.
Harwell: It is the way to do it. I think it’s critical as we go forward that we can discuss issues that have been important. As far as my future, I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to serve the public and hope that I’ve done that well, and I don’t know what the future holds.
I don’t think anyone does. We’re gonna have to wait and see what happens. But I’ll certainly let you be one of the first to know.
Leahy: So if you were to do something back in your old line of work, would you make a statement first here on this program if you were to do that?
Harwell: If that would please you. (Chuckles)
Leahy: It would! If you want to do something, that would be very interesting. Overall, Beth, on a scale of one to 10, one being not worried at all and 10 being extremely, existentially worried, how worried are you about the future of our country?
Harwell: I’m probably at an eight or nine. And I’ll tell you why that I’m not the full 10. I believe in America. And I think our elected officials have left us.
American people are as good and have as strong of values and beliefs that they’ve ever had. It’s that we’ve allowed our elected officials to leave us and we need to hold them accountable. I’m amazed at the people that will say to an elected official, oh I’d love to have my picture taken with you.
You know what? That elected official ought to be saying that to the citizen. I’d love to have my picture taken with you, because we’ve allowed them to forget that they’re our servants.
In Washington, D.C., they’re just up there not even obeying our Constitution. And we’re letting them get away with it. And it makes my heart bleed. It really does. This is a great nation. If we let it go, there’s no other place in the world we can go. This is it.
Leahy: So eight or nine. I have to kind of agree with you in terms of where we are as a nation right now. Do you think we can make it as a country with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who appears to be engaged in illegal – and this is my word, not yours – illegal actions by not enforcing our immigration and weak on foreign policy?
Freedom is now something that the people of Cuba want.
And the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue appears to be doing very little to support those efforts. He’s letting China dominate the South China Sea.
He’s not building up the Navy. You look around and you say this guy is intending to destroy our Constitutional Republic.
Harwell: It makes you think he doesn’t love our country because he’s deliberately taking us down a path that I don’t know that we can turn around and get back off of unless we change things and change things quickly.
Leahy: Yeah, it does seem to be deliberate, doesn’t it?
Harwell: It does.
Leahy: That is very troublesome. Beth Harwell, former speaker, Tennessee House of Representatives, thanks so much for joining.
Harwell: Thank you. My pleasure.
Leahy: It’s been great to have you in here and come back again if you would please.