Newly Elected State Rep Jody Barrett Takes on Role as Freshman Leader, Doubles Down on His Commitment to Reject Federal Education Dollars
Live from Music Row, Monday 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-TN-69) Jody Barrett in studio to discuss his new role within the Tennessee General Assembly as freshman leader and reconfirm his decision to support the rejection of federal education money.
Leahy: Our guest in studio, State Representative Jody Barrett, who represents Tennessee’s 69th state House district and first term, wanted to talk a little bit about when you were here last with your friend John Rich, I asked you a question.
Barrett: You did.
Leahy: And the question was, would you support legislation to tell the federal old government we don’t want a dime of their money for education? And now the Speaker has said he’s going to introduce legislation to that effect. Do you stand by your word 100 percent?
Barrett: 100 percent. In fact, I had a conversation with the Speaker last week and told him, I said, hey, you could call Michael Patrick Leahy and get a copy of the tape where I told him when he asked that exact question if I would support that type of legislation. And I told him that I would crawl on hands and knees to the well to present that bill. And so I told the speaker he has my full 100 percent support.
Leahy: I suppose you’ll walk and not crawl on your hands and knees, but you will support it in the well.
Barrett: It’s funny, some of my freshmen friends have suggested that they would love for me to do that because they want to see me crawl on my hands and knees.
Leahy: (Laughs) That’d be kind of funny.
Leahy: You know, I have a sense and this is why elections matter. I don’t think your predecessor would have supported that, but you will. And I have a sense this thing’s going to pass.
Barrett: There is a lot of support and I think there are going to be a lot of questions from the school systems and folks within our district that want to know exactly how it’s going to work. But I think once you start digging into the numbers, it’s not only the $1.8 billion that we get from the federal government. When you start factoring in what we have to pay to service and all these districts have to have as far as staff and salaries that go into the staffing to cover…
Leahy: To comply with all the stupid rules and regulations.
Barrett: It’s really not $1.8 that we’d be cutting out. It’s really, really probably $1.3 or $1.4. There’s another $400 or $500 million there that we’re not going to have to deal with.
Leahy: That’s interesting, that’s one of the reasons why we think this has got a good chance of winning. Now you come in and there are 99 members of the Tennessee House of Representatives. When you walk into that chamber, do you have a sense of being part of history?
Barrett: You know, it probably didn’t sink in until the day session opened and we were all sworn in. My family was there and both of my daughters from college came home in order to be there for that. My son is in 6th grade, he’s about to turn 12. And when we got done we went back to the office in Cordell Hall and he walked over to me, he goes, dad, this new job you got is a little bit cooler than I thought it was going to be. (Leahy laughs)
Leahy: Yes. As long as your 12-year-old son thinks you’re doing something cool, that’s a plus.
Barrett: Right. So standing there with my family and looking around at everybody, repeating the oath and all of that through the pomp and circumstance, it kind of sunk in at that point. Okay, we’re in this thing. Let’s see what we can do.
Leahy: There are 99 members of the Tennessee House of Representatives. It’s what is it? 74? How many are Republicans?
Leahy: 75 Republicans, 24 Democrats. So you’re in the majority. Of those 99, how many GOP members are freshmen?
Barrett: There were 14 true freshmen, they call them, to use a football term that was newly elected this fall. And then there were two redshirt freshmen, meaning that they were put in place by appointment during the last session and then came back and ran for the first time.
Leahy: So a total of 16, two of them are red shirts.
Barrett: That’s correct.
Leahy: Using that football term. Now, usually, a freshman comes in and kind of looks, well, where are the committee rooms and where’s this, where’s that? Trying to find your bearings. In the state legislature and particularly in the House, the Speaker of the House and leadership have great control over what happens. Is that right?
Barrett: They have total control over what happens.
Leahy: That’s the word I was looking for, total control.
Barrett: Total control. (Leahy chuckles)
Leahy: But you’re a freshman. Do the freshmen have any role in leadership?
Barrett: Well, we do. In the first week of December, the Republican House caucus got together and had their meeting where they nominate who their leadership is going to be. Speaker, Majority Leader, all of that. And I learned going into that that the freshmen also get to elect their leader.
So 16 of us got to decide who is going to be our freshman leader for this session. And that also comes as a House Majority leadership position. I believe it is Assistant Floor Leader. And so five of us put in to run for freshman Leader. And so we had one of those crazy elections where you keep voting until everybody wins. Went through three rounds and I came out on top.
Barrett: Thank you very much.
Leahy: That’s interesting to be a freshman and to be a part of leadership. Even though it’s Assistant Majority Floor Leader.
Barrett: It’s good for my district to have a seat at the table, to be there when major decisions are being made and when big issues are being debated. It’s going to be a huge thing.
Leahy: Is Johnny Garrett above you?
Barrett: Johnny Garrett is the majority whip, so he’s part of leadership as well.
Leahy: Is your job being the whip to help him with the freshman is it something different?
Barrett: As freshman leader, my job is to make sure there is an open line of communication between the leadership caucus and my freshman. To make sure they don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle of what is going on. And to give them as much open lines of communication. So we’ve been meeting weekly on Friday mornings via Zoom. They have all been going back to their districts.
All 16 of us get on Zoom and talk about what is going on, and answer questions. And so it’s really a kind of support group. And I just try to make sure that I facilitate as many opportunities for us to do that.
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 Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Jody Barrett” by Jody Barrett Tennessee State Representative. Background Photo “Dickson County Courthouse” by Dickson County Government.