Tennessee State Rep. Chris Todd Joins Host Leahy to Speak About His Role in the House and Keeping in Touch with Constituents
Live from Music Row Thursday 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 State Representative (R), Chris Todd of Jackson, to the newsmakers line to describe his background and discuss upcoming legislation in the House of Representatives.
Leahy: We are delighted to welcome to the newsmakers line, State Representative Chris Todd a Republican from Jackson, Tennessee. Good morning, Chris.
Todd: Good morning, Michael. How are you guys today?
Leahy: We’re great. You have a very interesting background here. You are a graduate of Union University which is one of the very best smaller colleges in America right there in Jackson. You have a degree in biology and you have an erosion control business. I guess that is what your main line of work is.
Todd: That is correct.
Leahy: How long you been doing that?
Todd: Well in our own business probably about 25 years. Two or three years prior to that with another company that I helped start this line of work with. And then prior to that. I was with TDEC. The Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation as a regulator for about four and a half years.
Leahy: What is that business like these days in the land of COVID is it hard easy the same different?
Todd: The greatest challenge we have is getting employees and employees to show up for work. When the government is paying them to sit at home that makes it really tough.
Leahy: That’s a very interesting comment. And so what I love about our state legislature here is it is basically citizen legislators. You are paid to come up here a modest amount. But most legislators are working for a living. Many on the Republican side are small businessmen. Does that frame your political ideology coming from a small business perspective?
Todd: Without question it does. As a matter of fact, I never really thought of being in public service like this most of my life. And then in the last 10 or 12 years got involved with the National Federation of Independent Business. As a small business owner, I found that they represent small businesses in our voice and not only in the state House but in Congress and found out how well-respected they were because they listen to their members.
They are member-driven. Completely member-driven. So that got me involved in certain issues like income tax, gas tax, and other things over the years. And that involvement and learning how our state legislature works really tweaked my interest. And then when my representative, Jimmy Eldridge decided not to run again I had some folks encouraging me just kind of out of the blue to run for office.
And I prayed about it and considered it and of course when I went home and told my wife that we need to pray about this. She said oh no, I’m sure the Lord wouldn’t lead you in anything like that. (Leahy chuckles) After a week or two of discussion and prayer with some friends as matter of fact, that joined us in that we all felt for some reason. I was supposed to run for office never really thinking I was necessarily supposed to win.
But it has been a true blessing to be able to serve people in a different capacity while still running a business and staying in touch. And being in the General Assembly is such an honor. Being in the House of Representatives you have to stay in touch with people. When I was running my wife, and I were knocking on doors day after day. Sweating through the summer months, meeting people, and going to things constantly.
She said y’all got to change this if we have to do this for two years I don’t know how we can do this. But once I was there for just a brief period of time I realized how wise it was to have the House elected every two years. Because you cannot get out of touch with the people and get reelected. You have to stay involved. You have to stay in front of the people and be accountable to the people. So it’s a level of accountability our founders put in place. It was very very wise.
Leahy: You are the chairman of a House subcommittee. Agriculture and natural resources. That seems like a very smart place for somebody with a biology degree and erosion control business to be placed. What’s the big agenda there?
Todd: I don’t know that there is a big agenda but generally pokes in that position have had an agricultural background, which is fantastic. Agriculture is such a huge part of our state’s economy. I bring to the table something a little bit different. Something from the environment side from the natural resources side and understand a decent amount of that part of our regulations and laws.
And so it’s just a different angle that I can bring a level of expertise to. As I tell people a lot I know a lot about very little things and then I know a little about several things. So where I can put that knowledge of my career choice to best use is where I wanted to serve if our Speaker wanted me there and he apparently did.
Leahy: We’re talking with Representative Chris Todd from Jackson. Chris, what are your personal priorities for this session of the Tennessee General Assembly?
Todd: I think if I were to put that at a 10,000-foot view, it would be to restore any infringements. Remove any infringements of citizens’ rights. And that comes under several categories. One in the area of the U.S. Constitution Second Amendment where the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Well, we’ve infringed on it over the years an awful lot.
And so trying to remove those infringements is a big deal to me. Also when it comes to emergency powers. I believe we have several laws on the books that are truly unconstitutional never been challenged and never been tested. But I think this General Assembly is making some strides toward streamlining that and making those emergencies powers apply to what they were truly meant to apply for. And not have the administrative part of our government the too overbearing and take too many of our liberties away.
Leahy: I’m reading into that. It sounds to me like you’re saying or it sounds to me like the argument there would be that the governor has overreached on his emergency powers and probably in giving powers to certain county mayors he’s overreached. Am I characterizing that correctly?
Todd: In one respect. And that is in respect to comparing those decisions to what the Constitution says not what’s on the law books. I believe he has followed the law. But I don’t believe those laws that we have on the books all are completely constitutional. And that’s what I wanted to assess this General Assembly and try to make right.
Leahy: Does that require a statutory change or is that an issue of a court challenge? And how would you make it right?
Todd: I think statutory change is where it’s at. There may be court challenges out there. I don’t know. I’ve not seen anything on that. but I think going through the process of what we’re doing day-to-day right now people have proposed bills of all types. Everything from regulating the local health departments all the way to the emergency powers of the governor. And I think that’s where it really starts.
That’s where we can have the debate, have the discussion, and make the changes that are necessary but still give the governor the powers that he needs to have in a true emergency. I don’t think anyone ever dreamt that those laws on the books would actually apply to an illness. And especially in illness on this level. But they have chosen to apply them and I believe under the law they have been correct. I just don’t think some of those laws are constitutional.
Leahy: Is there any specific bill that’s before a committee right now that would address the statutory problems of emergency powers?
Todd: I believe there are. I know one that Representative Jason Zachary has deals with the health departments. the six regional health departments were and I enjoy one of those health departments in my district. But the specifics of that and how it’s being amended. I couldn’t go into that. That’s not something I’m watching on an hour-to-hour basis.
And I know this week it has gone through at least one committee and probably will go through another committee next week. And so things as you well know as the legislation moves along sometimes there are tweaks to it with amendments to make it better. And so I believe it has passed its first hurdle this week.
And so I will be watching it a little more closely watch it goes a little further. But there are many others. I’ve been focused on the 15 bills that I have on my list to carry. And it’s such a scramble this time of year to get things put on notice and be at the right committee at the right time and present your bill and know what you’re talking about. And it’s a really interesting gig to try to keep up with on a daily basis.
Leahy: During session do you stay in Nashville, or do you commute from Jackson?
Todd: I’m here on Monday and right now while we’re in budget hearings. I’m here Sunday evening through Thursday afternoon.
Leahy: Well, one of these mornings why don’t you come by in studio, and we can chat here live in-studio on the Tennessee Star Report.
Todd: I’d like to do that. We may schedule that here very shortly. Maybe on a Monday morning or something before our budget hearings.
Leahy: Let’s do that. Hey, thanks so much for joining us state representative Chris Todd, Republican from Jackson. We look forward to having you in studio. Thanks again for being with us.
Todd: Thank you, Michael.
Listen to the full second hour here:
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