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 Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton to the newsmaker line to discuss his recent proposal in the Tennessee General Assembly which would reject federal education funding in the state.
Leahy: On the newsmaker line right now is speaker of the House Cam Sexton. Speaker Sexton, heads are blowing up at the Department of Education in Washington, DC, as we speak. You made a bold proposal yesterday. Tell us about it.
Sexton: I think liberals in Tennessee are losing their minds, too. What I said yesterday, and this goes back to when we were campaigning this last year and traveling the state and talking to people, Tennesseans are tired of the federal government reaching down into our state and telling us what to do and how to do it simply because they give us funding.
And so we’ve been thinking about it. We’ve been watching third and fourth-grade reading, retention rates, be abysmal. We’re looking at what the federal government is trying to pass down.
We have the TCAP test, all these standardized tests, not because of the state, but because the federal government tells us that we have to give them because they’re giving us money. And there are all these other things in the classroom that they’re out there telling us that we have to do.
And so the amount of money we’re talking about is about $1.8 billion. And so simply, what I said this week at a luncheon at the Farm Bureau meeting was, I think it’s time in the Department of Education that we tell the federal government to keep their $1.8 billion. We will fund that portion ourselves.
So we’ll continue to fund all the different title ones and twos the school lunch program and the vocational education, IDEAs. But I’ll tell you what, if we are right now in financial shape, which I think we are, to fund that much money and take the strings and the situations and get the federal government out of our classrooms, I think it’s time that we do it. And that’s what I proposed.
Leahy: You can hear the cheers all across middle Tennessee right now.
Simon: And right here, too.
Leahy: Both of us are just absolutely elated. It’s Christmas in February. That’s what I think.
Simon: Do it with all federal money, hospitals, everything.
Leahy: No other state in the union has done this yet. They’ve talked about it in South Carolina and in Oklahoma. When you brought this idea up, and I guess you’ve spoken to the governor about it. I get the indication that he’s open to the idea. Tell us about how that might proceed.
Sexton: Yes, the governor is open; the lieutenant governor is open. Even Commissioner Penny Schwinn is open. I got members in the House who are open. I think one of the things is, you look at states I know Texas has considered, and I’m sure Florida has. But you know how it is. Once you get over a certain level of funding, it’s very hard to cut the strings.
And that’s what the federal government tries to do. And so we’re at a point where $1.8 billion is a lot of money, but we can do it right now, based on how well our economy is doing. I think the next steps are we’re going to continue to have conversations. There needs to be a conversation. You can’t do it this coming year; that’s much too quick.
And so you have to have a conversation if we’re going to move in this, how long do we need to set it up to get everything implemented, to move things to the state to make sure we have it right? When is it feasible that we can cut the strings?
We need to really have a hard conversation about that, but first, we got to get everybody on the same page and say, you know what? This is what we want to do. We’re tired of the federal government telling us what to do. And I think we could be a leader. And I think what you’ll see is the red Republican states that are probably smaller in nature are able to do this quicker than the bigger ones.
But it sends a powerful message that we’re no longer waiting on Congress to tell or a Republican president to come in and eliminate the Department of Education at the federal level. I’m tired of waiting for them for decades to do something that they say they want to do when we can just go ahead and do it ourselves here in the state of Tennessee.
Simon: So how long do you anticipate this is going to take?
Sexton: I don’t know. That’s a question that we need to have about how to process it. I don’t think you could do it this year. I think that’s much too quick. But I think feasibly, you could do it next year. In this year’s budget, we have $3.2 billion of new revenue that’s recurring. And so we have the capability.
The governor wisely did not spend all that $3.2 billion in recurring. He did some non-recurring. So that money will come back next year to us. So it’s not like we’re losing the recurring dollars.
So we have the capability of talking about it this year, getting set up, spending all summer and all fall working towards something, if that’s what we want to do next year, which is what I would propose.
Leahy: The other question that I have for you, Speaker Sexton, is you look at that $1.8 billion that the Feds give the state. There are strings attached, I guess. What is the overall state budget? $8.3 billion for K-12 public school education?
Sexton: Somewhere around there. I think federal money makes up about 22 percent to 24 percent of the budget.
Leahy: Here’s my question for you. What are the administrative costs, of complying with all the rules and regulations of the Feds to get that $1.8 billion?
Sexton: Well, that’s true. And so maybe we can do it more efficiently. So it doesn’t really cost us $1.8 billion because we don’t need the bureaucracy to run it because of how the federal government’s doing and all the reporting mechanisms that you have to report back up.
It’s like insurance. You have a doctor’s office. They don’t employ employees in the doctor’s office to help the patients. Most of it is to deal with billing the insurance companies because it’s so complicated. And so that’s another question.
Are we spending a lot of money in bureaucracy, having to report back to the federal government that we don’t have to spend any more because we’re doing it ourselves and we can be more efficient in it? All those questions are great things to look at. I think in the end; there’s a lot of money tied up in a bureaucracy that we may not have to have anymore.
Leahy: Do you anticipate that a bill to accomplish this will be passed in this 2023 session of the Tennessee General Assembly?
Sexton: I think we’ll pass something, yeah. Now will it say that we’re going to implement it the following year, or do we pass something that says we’re going to put together members and we’re going to look at and work with the department and the governor, and then the goal is to come back in January with an itinerary and this is how we’re doing it.
And then let’s lay the work, and let’s lay the budget dollars budget-wise. It will be the next year’s budget at the earliest that we could probably do. So if that’s the case, let’s go ahead and set aside money out of the budget that will be proposed next year and then let’s work on how to handle the process and how to make this a smooth transition and not make it bumpy.
Leahy: In the House, State Representative Mark White is the chairman of the Education Administration committee. He’s been a teacher of his whole career, K12, and I think now he’s working with Lipscomb University here in Nashville.
He’s an influential and powerful member of the House on the issue of education. And I think I would say he sometimes has been slow to look at changes. Have you talked to him about it? What is his reaction to it?
Sexton: I haven’t talked to Chairman White. I’ve talked to Chair Patsy Hazelwood and members of my leadership team, and I’ve talked to, obviously, lieutenant governor as well as the Governor. I’ve had Senate leadership people after I mentioned it on the Farm Bureau luncheon, I think just yesterday and they’ve come up and said, hey, we’re all for it.
I’d be hard-pressed to think that there’s any Republican that says if we can fund education ourselves without the federal government, they wouldn’t want to move in that direction if it doesn’t mean any loss of services or anything of that nature.
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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 “Cam Sexton” by Cam Sexton.
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 TN (R) U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty to the newsmakers line to answer the questions of why he voted the opposite of what he initially said in an interview of January of this year, Big Tech, S1, and his position on the conflict between Hamas and ally Israel.
Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line, our good friend, United States Senator Bill Hagerty back to The Tennessee Star Report. Welcome, Senator Hagerty.
Hagerty: Good morning.
Leahy: Well, good morning now, senator. And let me begin with this question for you. It’ll take me about a minute to set it up. The last time you were here on this program was January fifth of this year. And right here on this program, you told me how you were going to vote the following day.
It was January sixth during the joint session of Congress when it convened to accept or reject the Electoral College vote. And here’s exactly what you said. I’m quoting. “I could not Michael, in good conscience, vote to accept the results of this election when I have such deep doubts about what happened here.” That’s exactly what you said.
But then less than 40 hours later, you voted to accept and certify all the Electoral College votes, even those from Georgia and Arizona. Here’s my question. Can you please tell me and our audience why you voted exactly the opposite of how you told us you would vote?
Hagerty: What I did on January the six was I objected to the Arizona results. I did that because my aim was to create a commission Mike that would put the constitutional violations that we all know occurred back to the state legislatures which is where this belongs to get it fixed.
I was never going to vote to nationalize the elections. What I want to do is uphold the Constitution and basically put this back to the state legislatures who are the ones that are constitutionally embodied to set the rules for state election laws for our federal election laws in their state.
After the riot broke out we lost all momentum to get this done. It wasn’t going to happen. And what I did is I turned my attention to the legislation that I put forward. President Trump loves the legislation called the Protect the Electoral College Act.
And what it requires is an audit of what took place in the 2020 elections. And every state where there is a constitutional violation will not get federal funds for their elections until they fix those problems. That’s the way we’re going to address this going forward. And I’m working through the process of getting it supported right now.
Leahy: But in the end, you voted to accept Arizona’s Electoral College votes and Georgia votes.
Hagerty: I voted to shut the arguments down. There are only two states raised and that was not enough to make a difference. We needed to bring that to an end and find another venue to fix this problem.
Leahy: That was a disappointing vote to me. But thank you for answering the question. Tell me now, you’ve been critical of the Biden administration on its efforts to get Israel to stop defending itself. Tell us about that.
Hagerty: The Biden administration is simply tone-deaf on how we should treat our allies and our foes. It seems that they want to criticize our allies to remove support for our allies and embolden our foes. If you think about the momentum that President Trump created with the Abraham Accords, what we were doing in the Middle East was creating a huge movement toward peace.
He brought four nations into normalization agreements with Israel. What we had was real momentum to finally established peaceful relationships, economic relationships, travel relationships between these nations in the Middle East.
And what the Biden administration has done in the past four months is they’ve wasted all that momentum. Instead, they’ve done the exact wrong thing to do. They’ve talked about re-entering the tragic Iran deal that President Trump thankfully got us out of.
And by moving to appease Iran, they’ve just emboldened the Iranians and their proxies Hamas. Hamas are the Iranian proxies that are working out of guys launching rockets at Israel. You know, where every one of those rockets is coming from?
They’re coming from Iran. These are Iranian rockets being launched on Israelis of civilians. Israel is entitled to defend itself. It should defend itself. It’s been surgical in its defense. And it’s just amazing how the European and the U.S. news media want to paint this in a different way.
We should be standing with our ally Israel and not emboldening Hamas. And you look at the Democrat Party. There was legislation that was put forward just a couple of days ago, the sanction, those who finance the Hamas those who support terrorism.
You had a party-line vote by the Democrats not to do that. In essence, to support terrorism. Two years ago, they all voted unanimously with the Republicans for just a sort of legislation. The Democrat Party has moved so far left it’s unrecognizable at this point.
Leahy: Now you serve President Trump as ambassador to Japan. And there you worked with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The current Secretary of State is Tony Blinken. Compare Mike Pompeo’s service as Secretary of State with Tony Blinken’s first four months as Secretary of State.
Hagerty: Well, it’s still quite early to say. Tony Blinken said the right things to me when we talked about the Abraham Accords. He said he thought they were a great breakthrough, that we should continue the momentum.
But his voice isn’t being heard in the Biden White House and certainly not among the Democrat representatives up in the Congress. I hope that Secretary Blinken will be emboldened to step up and do the right thing here. Secretary Pompeo had no trouble doing that.
And Mike Pompeo is a very clear-eyed, deliberate, and thoughtful diplomat. He did, I think, a terrific job serving President Trump. I enjoyed serving with Mike Pompeo and President Trump. We got a lot accomplished for America and a lot accomplished for our allies. And I think that Secretary Blinken has some big shoes to fill and I’m going to be pushing them hard to do just that.
Leahy: Senator Bill Hagerty, you’re a big critic of Big Tech, the oligopoly of Facebook and Google and Twitter and that crowd. What do you see should be done to control their uncontrolled power right now?
Hagerty: What I’ve done to address this is put forward legislation that would take down Section 230, which is the clause that they use. The large Internet platform providers like Facebook, like Google, like Twitter, use this as a means to censor.
What I think we should do is treat them like a common carrier. Justice Thomas did a great job, in one of his opinions laying this logic out. I read that I thought this makes complete sense to me. And what we did is we translated this into legislation.
What we would do is we would take these large carriers and acknowledge the fact that they really are more than just private companies. They have become the modern-day marketplace for ideas and the public square. We would regulate them the same way we regulate other common carriers, like telephone companies, telegraphs, and railroad companies.
And require them to provide non-discriminatory access to their platforms. That is the way to approach this and to do away with this. And to do away with this Section 230, to be clear, 230 provided that platforms like this could police the content on their platforms to make certain that they were family-friendly.
Not allowing obscenity, not allowing extreme violence. Those were clear definitions, but they also had a clause, both material that’s otherwise objectionable. And that otherwise objectionable language is what these Big Tech companies have used to just drive through that loophole like a Mack truck and use that as their reason, that is their excuse.
That is their lever to censor conservative voices. We need to bring that to an end. And this is the way to do it with this legislation.
Leahy: Last question for you today, Senator Hagerty. The Democrats are pushing through this S1. It passed in the House as H1. This is an attempt to nationalize all elections, to get rid of state election laws, and nationalize them. Will this pass in the 50/50 Senate? What’s your prognosis there?
Hagerty: I seriously hope not. And I’ll encourage your listeners to go to my website to see my statements in the committee fighting back on that. But I pushed back very hard on this. What the Democrats are trying to do is resurrect a lot of their old wish list of federalized elections. They tried this after the 2016 election.
Again they’re coming back and trying to create a crisis now, pointing to the situation in Georgia and the Georgia legislatures’ attempt to strengthen their election laws. Pointing to that is an excuse to come back and essentially nationalize the elections and create an advantage that would make their party the only party in power for decades to come.
They want to come in and do the things that would absolutely weaken the integrity of our elections. In fact, Jimmy Carter and Secretary of State James Baker put together a commission to look at election integrity a number of years ago. And the two things that they cited as the greatest vulnerabilities were mail-in balloting and ballot harvesting. That’s what the Democrats are trying to put into legislation right now.
Leahy: Absolutely. Senator Bill Haggerty, thank you so much for joining us today. Come back again and make it less than four months next time.
Hagerty: Good to be with you.
Listen to the full third hour:
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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.
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 TN. (R) State Representative Jerry Sexton to the studio to discuss the Tennessee General Assembly’s intentions to control what is being taught in K12 public schools and the catch of accepting education funding from Washington.
Leahy: In studio our good friend State Representative Jerry Sexton from Bean Station, Tennessee. Jerry during the break, we were talking a little bit about education policy. There’s this real disconnect between what the Tennessee General Assembly says should be taught in schools and what actually is taught in schools. The schools’ curriculum is leaning left. Big time.
Now the Joe Biden Department of Education, I don’t know if you saw this is making grants available to teach critical race theory and The 1619 Project, which has been debunked historically. Critical race theory is an effort to divide America and to tell a false history. The concept behind critical race theory is not, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, that we should be judged by the content of our character.
But critical race theory says that everything should be seen through the lens of race. My question to you is there are apparently, some state legislators who are considering, even in the last couple of weeks of the session of introducing legislation, maybe in a caption bill, you would know better than I how it would come about, that would prohibit the teaching of either The 1619 Project or of critical race theory in Tennessee K12 public schools. If such a bill were proposed, how would you vote?
Sexton: Ha! I would vote to kill it. To kill it, kill it, kill it. And I know that I have several colleagues on the Education Committee that are fighting against this type of policy. And this is what’s ruining our public schools. It’s not about education. And I say it all the time. I was only on the education committee last session, and I talked about this all the time that it’s not about teaching, writing, arithmetic those types of things. It’s about indoctrinating our children. And we must put a stop to it. We must do that. We’ve stood up in this legislature just this past year. There was a program to come out to go into homes. And I don’t know if your people talked about that.
Leahy: Wellness checks without the approval of the parents.
Sexton: And we were livid. And it’s because of the Tennessee legislature and some conservative representatives that stood up and expose this for what it was. And we got it stopped. And, Michael, until we have the backbone to stand up and say, no, absolutely not, Washington you keep your money, you keep your values, you keep your education will keep ours in Tennessee. And I’ll be happy in five years to show the difference to Washington. They’re not teaching education. They’re teaching propaganda.
Leahy: Yeah, it’s kind of bizarre that our K12 public schools have devolved into propaganda machines. But that’s the reality of where they are now. I have this little pet idea, and I want to run it by you. So K12 public education in most States is funded by about 40 percent by local taxes, 50 percent by state taxes, about 10 percent from federal revenue. With federal revenue comes federal strings.
And usually, they come up with all these stupid ideas that if you want federal money, you’re going to have to do X, Y, or Z and all this stupid stuff. So here is my idea that I’ve kind of floated around. Why doesn’t the Tennessee General Assembly pass a bill that says we are not going to take a dime of federal money for education? You can keep your money and you can keep your regulations and we’ll do it our way. That makes some sense to me. As a legislator, what do you think of that concept?
Sexton: Well, let me veer off into another area and it deals with federal money. On my way home last Thursday, I’m getting calls from my county mayors. They’re wanting to know we had two million dollars put into the budget that would go directly to these counties for them to spend the money on infrastructure or whatever they needed. The local people and mayors…
Leahy: They know what’s needed. If the road needs fixing, they know which road needs fixing.
Sexton: I have a little Cumberland gap. It’s just a small place right there on the Kentucky border. And the Mayor told me he said, we need some roads and we’re going to get $40,000. of that money and we want our roads resurfaced. He said I’m hearing that they’re talking about not putting that in the budget because of the federal dollars.
Here’s what he said and here’s what every mayor told me. Those federal dollars come with strings. He said I can’t pave my roads. He said, I have to do one, two, three, and most of them have to do with the Green New Deal or something like that. He said I need the state money because I can do whatever I need to do for my town, for my county.
But he said if these federal dollars, he said, I have to do whatever they tell me to do. And he said I’m hearing that they’re wanting to take the $200 million out because of all the federal dollars. And I said, not in the House. The House is fighting for you. And I said it’s my understanding the governor is fighting for you. So I don’t know what the Senate is going to do. I’m not in the Senate. But that’s exactly what we’re doing with education. We need to tell Washington you keep your money, we’ll keep our money and we’ll teach our kids Tennessee values.
Leahy: Will you in the next session, introduce a bill to accomplish just that?
Sexton: I would love to accomplish that. I would love to introduce that bill. I will be glad to do that.
Leahy: All right. We’ll track it. And I say that with a smile on my face.
Leahy: And you know why there’s a smile on my face? Because there are huge hurdles to such a bill.
Sexton: Oh, absolutely.
Leahy: The Teacher’s Union. The Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, and the Tennessee School Board. They’re all going to oppose it. All of them. Because they want the money.
Sexton: What’s most important to us? Funding the teachers union in the large infrastructure in the education Department? Or teaching our students? what’s the most important?
Leahy: I agree. And I’ve talked to a representative, Mark White, who’s a chair of the Education Administration Committee. He was favorably inclined to that idea.
Leahy: At least at the initial stages. It is a tough political battle. But we’ll see how that plays out.
Listen to the first hour here:
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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.