State Senator Jack Johnson Clarifies Terms of State Abortion Trigger Law, Action on Third Grade Retention

State Senator Jack Johnson Clarifies Terms of State Abortion Trigger Law, Action on Third Grade Retention

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 State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson to the newsmaker line to clarify the abortion trigger law, third-grade retention bill, and the possibility of direct instruction in K-12 public schools.

Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line right now, our very good friend, State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Good morning, Senator Johnson.

Johnson: Good morning, Michael. Good to be back with you. Happy New Year! I don’t think we’ve spoken in 2023 yet.

Leahy: Happy New Year to you as well. So the Tennessee General Assembly convened in an organizational meeting last week. You picked your leaders. Congratulations on being named State Senate majority leader again. And Randy McNally, of course, Speaker of the state senate, and Lieutenant Governor, and Cameron Sexton was elected as Speaker of the House.

Then you take a break and you come back into session to discuss bills, I think a week from Monday, January 30th. What do you do in this interim period?

Johnson: For some of our new members, it’s time for them to hire staff. And we also have new committee chairmen who have been appointed or perhaps moved to a different committee. The way the process works, you’re right. We have that organizational session. We elect a Speaker.

That Speaker then passes out committee assignments and names the committee chairman for the various committees. And then you need some time for people to move offices, hire additional staff, and then get back to work. Luckily, on the Senate side, Michael, there are fewer of us.

There are 33 Senators versus 99 House members. And so our process is a little simpler. We have three new members of the Senate, and we do have a couple of new committee chairmen. So we’re taking a one-week recess in order to get all of that done.

The House, of course, has more members. It’s a little more complicated. They’re taking two weeks. We all convene this coming Friday in order to prepare for the governor’s inauguration, which will take place on Saturday, and then we’ll reconvene the following Tuesday. The House will come back in a week after us.

Leahy: Okay, so you’re going to get down to business a little bit before the House, in part because there are fewer of you. It looks to me like there are three big bills out there for consideration, probably more, but to me, see if I’ve missed any of the trigger bill after the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, the third-grade retention bill, and then the new transportation bill that Transportation Commissioner Butch Eley is going to propose. Tell us about the trigger bill. What do you see happening there?

Johnson: The way I like to break it down, Michael, and I think we may have touched on this before, I put it into two lanes. There are two lanes that will be discussed relative to abortion in Tennessee. Lane one is to perhaps clarify the spirit and the intention of what we have on the books now.

What we have on the books right now is an absolute prohibition on abortion in the state of Tennessee, with one very narrow exception, and that is the life of the mother, you might say, too, for substantial reproductive harm. I believe it’s the language that we have on the books.

We have had physicians that have approached us with concerns about the language and whether or not it is clear to protect those doctors who, in their best medical judgment, believe that it is absolutely necessary to terminate a pregnancy in order to save the life of that mother.

I can tell you from my standpoint, I believe most members of the General Assembly, we don’t want that to be unclear. We want that to be clear, whether it’s bringing up examples like ectopic pregnancies and hemorrhages and these various medical conditions that are legitimate and can happen.

I believe that those are consistent with the bill that we passed. It was a trigger bill that became triggered upon the Dobbs case coming down, and so I think we will address that then.

Lane, two, is far more troublesome to me or perhaps concerning, and that is to deal with exceptions for rape and incest and other types of exceptions. And I think it’s important that your listeners and that the people of Tennessee understand those and that we don’t conflate those two lanes.

Lane one is consistent with what we have on the books now, but perhaps may need some additional clarity. Lane two is opening up to allow for more abortions in Tennessee.

Leahy: Okay, well, that clears it up. Let’s talk about third-grade retention. In the last session, you passed a bill signed into law that says third graders if they don’t meet grade-level proficiency standards in the tests they take at the end of third grade, they either have to be held back for a year or go to summer school.

I got two elements of the question on this, Senator Johnson. A lot of parents and some various groups are saying, oh, you’re so mean to do that. It’s going to damage them socially. And so there are people that are saying, well, let’s get rid of that law.

What do you think the reaction of the Tennessee General Assembly is going to be to that complaint depending on where you look at it?

A story today from the Chattanooga Times Free Press, only 38 percent of third graders in the English language are at proficiency levels there. What are your thoughts on that?

Johnson: I’m very supportive of the bill we passed, and it has been dubbed, and I’ve used the term as well, the third grader retention bill. I almost wish we could have come up with a better way to label that legislation.

Michael, the objective of the legislation we passed is not to hold back as many third graders as we possibly can, because we’re mean, as you said, and we have been called that the objective of the legislation is to make sure all third graders can read a grade level before they advance to the fourth grade.

And if we do, our jobs, and I hope that we will, there won’t be many third graders who get retained. We have appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars to go towards additional resources, tutoring, and intervention to identify these kids that are struggling.

And you’re right. Roughly a third, Michael, of our third graders can’t read at grade level. We should be ashamed of that. That is an embarrassing statistic for the state of Tennessee.

You know what the General Assembly did, Michael, that governments don’t typically do? We took bold action. We did something decisive, and it was a big, big decision, and it took a lot of discussions, and it was a heavy lift to get it done.

But what we did is we stuck a flag in the ground. We drew a line in the sand and said, no more. No more. Are we going to allow these third graders to advance to fourth grade, fifth grade, 6th grade, when they can’t read? Every educator in the world will tell you that from kindergarten through third grade, a kid learns to read. After that, they read to learn.

So if you’re funneling these kids through a revolving door up into 4th, 5th, and 6th grade, and they can’t read, they are doomed to fail. And so I have said this, it’s a bit hyperbolic, but if every single third grader needs to repeat the third grade in order to fix this, then we need to do it and have no fourth graders next year.

That’s not going to happen, of course. But we’re not just saying if they can’t read, they’re not going to advance. We’re saying, no, we’re going to stop. We’re going to provide intervention, resources, tutoring, and summer school. We’re going to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at these kids to make sure they can read, and then they advance, and then they can be successful.

Leahy: Senator Johnson, I agree with the identification of the problem. It’s terrible that only roughly a third of Tennessee K-12 public school students in third grade can read at the proficiency levels for that grade. However, this would be where I would encourage you and other state legislators to think a little differently, to suggest that a K-12 public school system that has failed to get them to be proficient up to third grade, doing the same thing, except more of it next time will fix the problem.

I don’t think that works. My view on this is, and I would encourage you to consider Thales Academy here in Franklin which is part of a national group that uses direct instruction to teach kids how to read, write, and do arithmetic.

It’s been proven for over 60 years. The implementation properly of direct instruction in K-12 public schools will solve this problem. Would you and other state legislators consider the possibility of introducing direct instruction in K-12 public schools here in Tennessee?

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 “Senator Jack Johnson” by Senator Jack Johnson.




State Senator Jack Johnson Describes the Job of Majority Leader in Tennessee Senate and Upcoming Agenda

State Senator Jack Johnson Describes the Job of Majority Leader in Tennessee Senate and Upcoming Agenda

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 State Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) in the studio to describe the Senate majority duties, relationships, and upcoming agenda in the Tennessee Senate.

Leahy: In the studio, our very good friend Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, who represents most of Williamson County. Doesn’t have a challenger, so he’ll be re-elected five days from today on November 8.

Jack, tell us a little bit about the job of a state senator as a majority leader. What do you do? What’s your relationship with the President of the Senate, Randy McNally, who is also a lieutenant governor, the way it works here, and how do you relate to your other Republican colleagues?

There are 27 Republicans and 6 Democrats. How do you relate to the Democrats? What’s the job of being a majority leader in the state Senate?

Johnson: Sure. You hit the nail on the head. First of all, our leadership structure, the Speaker of the Senate, who is our lieutenant governor, Randy McNally, who is a great friend and a wonderful mentor to me and others in the Senate, he’s our longest-serving member.

He’s forgotten more about state government than most of us will ever know, I’ll say that. So we’re very lucky and fortunate to have him where he is.

And then you have the majority leader or the Republican leader, and that’s because the Republican Party is the majority party. That makes me the majority leader. Jeff Yarborough from right here in Nashville is the Democratic leader, and he’s the minority leader.

So my job is to work with my colleagues and focus more on the policy side of things. We have our caucus chairman who’s also in leadership, Ken Yager. He’s kind of more focused on the political side of things, working with our members, and so forth.

I focus a lot on policy, be it the governor’s agenda. And when Governor Lee has a legislative initiative, I’m the Senate sponsor of that legislation, and I work with my colleagues to try to get that advanced. It’s also my job to tell the governor when I don’t think we’re going to be amenable to something that he proposes.

Leahy: So the perception is that when there’s an agenda for the governor, his team and he developed an agenda item, a series of bills they want to introduce, but he doesn’t just go out and introduce them. He talks to you. He talks to Lieutenant Governor McNally. He talks to Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton.

Johnson: Absolutely.

Leahy: And basically he says, will this thing fly?

Johnson: Exactly.

Leahy: Are there times when you say, love you, Governor, but this thing, I don’t think it’s going to fly?

Johnson: Well, obviously, the governor is a great friend, and we’re both – I would consider us both very conservative Republicans, and so we agree most of the time, but certainly there are times that we don’t agree, or maybe I agree with him.

But I go back and talk to my colleagues, and we use the term “I feel a cool breeze blowing” on a particular idea. So it’s equally my job to go back to the governor and say, hey, what you’re proposing, Governor, I don’t think we can get across the finish line.

Or, maybe suggest changes or say, I think if we approach it from this angle, I think we can get there. But obviously when it comes to things he’s proposed, like the Heartbeat Bill and tax cuts and things like that, most of the things the Governor’s proposed find broad support.

But yes, it’s a two-way street. It’s to be supportive of his agenda when I can be and my colleagues can be, but also to work with him when maybe we’re not on the same page.

Leahy: Now, the other part about this that’s sort of interesting is, back to the constitution of the state of Tennessee. Just structurally, the Tennessee General Assembly, that is, the Tennessee State Senate and the Tennessee House, have a lot of power in the state. And to me, as I read it, it’s because you can override a veto of the Governor with just a majority vote in both Houses. Is that right?

Johnson: That is correct. That is correct. Unlike the federal government where it takes a two-thirds vote of both chambers to override a presidential veto. So it very rarely happens because very rarely in our history has either party had a two-thirds majority in both chambers.

But you’re right, and I’ll give you an example. We had legislation back during the Bredesen administration relative to the ability of a carry permit holder for carrying a weapon, to be able to take that into a restaurant that served alcohol.

And that was illegal and we said it shouldn’t be illegal. Now, it’s illegal to consume alcohol while you’re carrying a weapon, but if you want to go and have iced tea and some chicken fingers and the restaurant doesn’t care, you should be able to take your weapon in.

Governor Bredesen vetoed that legislation and then we overrode his veto. It doesn’t happen a lot, but I will say Governor Lee in his entire first term did not veto a single bill passed by the general assembly.

Leahy: But it’s a power.

Johnson: Exactly.

Leahy: And in the state of Tennessee, if the leadership of the state Senate is aligned with the leadership of the Tennessee House, that is a very powerful combination. And what I’ve seen is extraordinary cooperation between Lieutenant Governor McNally, the president of the state senate, and Speaker Cam Sexton.

Johnson: Yes.

Leahy: It seems to me that ideologically the Senate and the House are very closely aligned in ways that perhaps previously in Tennessee state history didn’t happen.

Johnson: Absolutely. And it’s not lost on me or my colleagues. We are in this incredible situation right now as a state, and with that, I think, comes tremendous responsibility because we have these supermajorities.

We are very closely aligned. We have some really incredible men and women serving in both the House and the Senate. And that’s one reason our state is in the incredible condition that it’s in right now is that we’ve been able to work together now, I would say, and it’s not going to happen.

But can you imagine being a Democrat governor with these supermajority Republican legislatures, both the Senate and the House, with everything that you said, our ability to override vetoes with a simple majority.

Leahy: Let me just say, let me paraphrase something that Barack Obama said. On the other hand, in that circumstance, if there were a Democrat governor, the Tennessee General Assembly would say something like this governor, we have a veto pen and we’re not afraid to use it. (Laughter)

Johnson: That’s right. We have a phone and a pen and we’re not afraid to use either one.

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

– – –

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 “Jack Johnson” by Senator Jack Johnson. Background Photo “Tennessee State Capitol” by Andre Porter. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson Supports Keeping Tennessee National Guardsmen That Refused Vaccine Mandate on Payroll, Attorney General Process, and His Campaign

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson Supports Keeping Tennessee National Guardsmen That Refused Vaccine Mandate on Payroll, Attorney General Process, and His Campaign

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. – Leahy was joined on the newsmaker line by Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, to discuss his advocation for the Tennessee National Guardsmen who refused the COVID-19 vaccine required to maintain payroll status, the process in which the state attorney general is picked, and his own campaign progress.

Leahy: We are joined now on our newsmaker line by State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Good morning, Senator Johnson.

Johnson: Good morning, Michael. Good to be back with you.

Leahy: So you’ve been making some news out there about the Tennessee National Guard. And just to recap, the Department of Defense has mandated that Tennessee National Guard members who don’t take the COVID-19 vaccine by June 30, the process of separating them shall begin.

They’ve now are on non-paid status. You had suggested, Senator Johnson, the possibility that you may call for a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly to address this problem. Tell us where that possibility exists right now. What’s the status of that?

Johnson: Sure, Michael. Well, first of all, it is unconscionable that the president of the United States and the Department of Defense is even contemplating the possibility of terminating these brave men and women. These Tennessee National Guard men and women are heroes.

They wear the uniform of the United States of America. They’re prepared to go to battle to defend our liberty. They respond here at the state level. When we have natural disasters, tornadoes, or floods, they are on the spot immediately to help our fellow Tennesseans and defend our liberty.

So the fact that the Biden administration would even consider terminating them because of a medical decision they choose to make is, as I say, I believe to be unconscionable.

We are in discussions now, leadership in the General Assembly, and the governor’s office, about what our options are. I am all for shifting them to state payroll if necessary, so that they don’t lose their jobs.

The problem becomes, Michael, and this is where we’re in our discussions, is figuring out how this might play out. And unfortunately, we could keep them on payroll.

I think the will of the General Assembly is there to do that so they don’t lose their jobs. But the Department of Defense could still prohibit them from training, doing drills, using military equipment that is bought and paid for by the federal government.

We could be in a scenario where we can keep them on payroll, but there’s nothing for them to do. The conversations are ongoing, but it is a disgrace that we’re even having to talk about this.

Leahy: So what are the odds that there will be a special session to address this problem?

Johnson: I would say the odds are good, but again, we’ve got to figure out exactly one of the things about when we go into special session, Michael, in the General Assembly, and we’ve done it numerous times in recent years.

We don’t go into session and then try to figure out what the solution is. We try to figure out, okay, what is the path forward, what is the best answer to solve this problem?

Then we get it ready. We go into special session. If we need to pass legislation, appropriate money, then we do that. We try to get it knocked out in three or four days as quickly as possible. So those conversations are still ongoing.

And by the way, the absolute final trigger has not been pulled by the Department of Defense with regards to these National Guardsmen and women. So the Biden administration has signaled that they intend to terminate them.

Leahy: Exactly right. Hey, you ready for a little bit of a curveball, Senator Johnson?

Johnson: Yep.

Leahy: Okay, here comes the curveball. So I’ve been following this process by which the state Supreme Court is picking an attorney general.

Now, our attorney general Herb Slatery, a fine attorney, but hasn’t, in my view, aggressively defended the Tenth amendment rights of the state of Tennessee or its citizens.

Now, he said he’s not coming back for another eight-year term. Under the constitution of the state of Tennessee, it’s the Supreme Court that picks the attorney general and recorder.

They’ve announced the process. It doesn’t look like it’s very robust, and it doesn’t have a role for the Tennessee General Assembly.

The constitution of the state of Tennessee says the Supreme Court gets to pick the attorney general, but the duties of the attorney general are defined by statute by the Tennessee General Assembly.

I would like to see, and I want to see what your view on this is. We’ve been trying to encourage the Supreme Court to do this. I would like to see a role for the Tennessee General Assembly in the process of selecting the new attorney general. What are your thoughts on that?

Johnson: We had legislation, we had a resolution to amend the Tennessee constitution this past session, which, as you know, and I’ve heard you talk about it on the show here, Michael, that is a fairly lengthy laborious process to amend the constitution.

So we can think about things we can do in the short term and then versus the long term. I supported the resolution. It was brought by my friend Senator Ken Yager [and] would have added a confirmation process by the General Assembly.

It would have allowed to continue to allow the Supreme Court to pick the attorney general, but would have added another component. Just as we do with judges, appellate court judges that are appointed by the governor.

We have now put in place a confirmation process so that the General Assembly has buy-in. That’s another thing that we have done in years past is we have retained our own council.

And the General Assembly has every right authority to do that, to retain its own counsel, to pursue or defend legislation that has been passed, or to sue on behalf of the general assembly.

So I think there are some short-term and some long-term possibilities that we can consider. I do believe the General Assembly should have a greater role in the process of selecting the attorney general.

Leahy: And let me suggest that the Supreme Court has said they’re going to have hearings of some sort on the candidates they select. I don’t see any reason why.

And I will suggest for your consideration that the Tennessee General Assembly should also hold hearings for those candidates. And my guess is they would be even more robust. That’s just a gentle suggestion. Last question.

Johnson: That’s a great idea. That’s great advice, Michael.

Leahy: Okay, last question for you. You got a campaign going on. You have a challenger. Three weeks and two days until the election. What are you hearing out there as you talk to constituents?

Johnson: Well, we are very excited, working very hard. I love campaigning. I love going out and talking to voters. I was out knocking on doors last night in Franklin, and I love meeting voters at the doorstep or in the restaurant or in the grocery store talking about my record in the General Assembly.

I think that we in Tennessee have made Tennessee – this is the line I use frequently, and I believe it’s true – we’re the most conservative, best-managed state in the nation, and we need to keep it that way. And that’s what I’m fighting for.

That’s what I’ve been fighting for in the General Assembly. And if the good voters of Williamson County will give me the opportunity to serve for another four years, that’s what I will continue to do.

Leahy: State Senator Jack Johnson, thank you so much for joining us today, and good luck out there in the summer heat as you knock on doors.

Johnson: Thanks, Michael.

Listen to the interview:

– – –

Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Jack Johnson” by Senator Jack Johnson. Background Photo “Tennessee State Capitol” by Andre Porter. CC BY-SA 3.0.









Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson on Age-Inappropriate Wit and Wisdom Curriculum and Parental Engagement at the Local School Board Level

Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson on Age-Inappropriate Wit and Wisdom Curriculum and Parental Engagement at the Local School Board Level


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 Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson to the newsmakers line to discuss the age-inappropriate wit and wisdom curriculum that has many people in the community angered. He also urged parents to get involved in local school board elections and oversight.

Leahy: We welcome to our newsmaker line, our very good friend, Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Jack, good morning.

Johnson: Good morning Michael. Good to be back with you.

Leahy: Well, it’s great to have you on. Now we’ve got to tell all our listeners is in full disclosure. You and I are pretty good friends.

Johnson: We are! We are! For many years.

Leahy: For many years. So this is just a couple of friends talking about a public issue. But it’s interesting how this one came about. Yesterday, as you know, in addition to hosting The Tennessee Star Report radio program here on Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLC, and owning and operating eight state-based news sites, including The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network, I write for Breitbart.

And I was very surprised yesterday when I saw a featured story at Breitbart News (Johnson chuckles) by my colleague Kyle Olson. And there was Jack Johnson. (Chuckles) It was a story about you, Jack.

And I sent this story to you right away. I said Jack, I didn’t know it was in the story. I said, Jack, I didn’t write this story or push it to anybody. And here it is. The headline. Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Fights Critical Race Theory in Own School District. So I sent you the text with that story, and I guess you’ve just seen it just a few minutes before.

Johnson: Yeah. Someone had sent it to me literally moments before you had as well. I wasn’t aware that it was going to be a national story in Breitbart. It was based off of an interview I had done with another news outlet here in Tennessee on the subject.

And I guess Breitbart picked it up. And by the way, I want to point out you’re a busy guy, you know that? You kind of rattled off all the things you’re involved with. You’re a busy guy. I can certainly relate to that.

Johnson: As are you. (Laughter)

Leahy: But of course, the other thing that’s great about you, Jack, is that you are a mean bass guitarist, right? You play with the Austin Brothers, and it’s always fun to go to a GOP event where you and your team are playing. It’s good music.

Johnson: We have a lot of fun with it. There was a time long ago when I tried to make money doing that. Luckily, that’s not an issue anymore. I just do it for fun.

Leahy: What’s interesting about this story, and I thought, Kyle, although he did not interview you, apparently for this story…

Johnson: Right.

Leahy: It’s very interesting how he put the story together. He started off. He saw a piece in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, where you were talking about the wit and wisdom reading program.

But he added to that three other sources, the Williamson Herald, the Tennessee Lookout, which is kind of the far left, funded by the usual left-wing billionaire types. Our friend Holly McCall, who we are friendly with, although she’s ideologically on the far left is running that operation.

And then, of course, also The Tennessee Star. Let’s go to this wit and wisdom curriculum. What’s going on with that?

Johnson: This is a curriculum that was adopted by the Williamson County School Board recently within the last year or two. And as you know, Michael, with this national debate that’s taking place relative to Critical Race Theory, there is an extremely heightened awareness, I think, on the parts of parents and communities across the nation and certainly here in Williamson County, where I represent.

That is the case. And so I have seen a level of parental engagement and involvement with the school board on a myriad of things. But certainly, I think Critical Race Theory and the debate over that has driven this. And so this curriculum was discovered that is being used in Williamson County.

It’s been used in Davidson County as well. I’m not sure how broadly it’s being used across the state. And it’s problematic in that some would argue that it is an entree if you will. It has elements of Critical Race Theory in it.

Others would say it does not. I care about that. But I’m not going to go into that argument. I have reviewed the curriculum and it’s problematic just from an age appropriateness. This is a curriculum that is used for young kids at school as young as, say, second grade.

And it has some dark themes about some historical events that may be have taken place that might be fine for a junior or a senior in high school, but not for elementary age kids. That’s one aspect of it.

And there are others that I could get into that make it problematic. And so that’s what the interview is about. And that’s what I spoke about. And in one of the interviews I did, I was very clear that I’m not making a case that this is or is not Critical Race Theory. It is problematic. And I don’t believe it’s age-appropriate for small kids.

Leahy: We looked at that. We did a bunch of stories on this. Our ace reporter, Corinne Murdock, showed examples of the curriculum. And you’re absolutely right about not being age-appropriate.

They’re really painting a very, very negative picture of America’s history to second graders, second graders. That’s undeniable. It seems to me to be a judgment problem to include that in the curriculum for second graders.

Johnson: Agreed. And this is why it is so important. And I’m grateful, Michael. This is very reminiscent to me of the whole Common Core debate when Common Core was introduced and it was being pushed in schools in Tennessee and across the nation.

And parents got involved. They learned about Common Core and what it was. They got involved and it led to it being removed. And now we don’t use Common Core in Tennessee. And we passed legislation to guarantee that.

So it’s very similar to the debate and discussion we’ve had about Critical Race Theory. And now it’s transcending into this wit and wisdom curriculum, which is being used in some areas.

And I think that’s healthy. I think it is good the more people involved and the more parents are involved. And I’ve had so many people, Michael, that have come up to me and say, Jack, you know what?

I’m not even sure if I voted in every school board election but you can bet I’m going to now, and I’m going to be involved. And I’ve gotten to know my school board member, and that’s what makes the system better.

Leahy: What’s interesting about this is we watch this and there’s a group of Williamson County parents called Moms for Liberty. I think it’s a national group, but there’s a very active Williamson County group and a friend of ours a man named Robin Steenman.

Steenman is one of the heads of that group. They’ve been very active in talking about the curriculum. Of course, I live in Williamson County, you represent me in the state Senate. And, of course, my children went to Williamson County schools.

But it seems to me that part of the problem is, and maybe you can talk about this in general, perhaps not specifically. Parents have concerns, and they go to the school board and the school board kind of responds to them like they are their children. Get it out of your system but we’re going to keep doing this. That’s what it seems like to me.

Johnson: Well, and that’s not an acceptable answer at any level of government. It’s certainly not acceptable. If a constituent or constituent group comes to talk to me about an issue at the state level, if it’s a city or a county issue, and certainly whenever it comes to our kids.

And I’ll preface this or digress for a moment here Michael. I’ve often said that I think one of the hardest elected positions in the world is to be on the school board. It is a very challenging job, and it’s one of the most important.

And it saddens me and I think you and I talked about voter engagement before. It saddens me. I’m very happy that there was a 70 to 75 percent voter turnout last November for the presidential election in Williamson County and a huge turnout across the state.

But when we have school board elections, typically the turnout is maybe around 15 or 16 percent. And it should be 100 percent across the board. But more people should be engaged with their school board and whether that’s in terms of working with them and lobbying with them and voting for the school board because the children in our Williamson County schools do not belong to the school board, they belong to their parents.

And the parents should make those decisions. We have an elected school board for a reason and that is so they can make appropriate decisions regarding public education that are right for our community.

The state created school boards. We could just have one statewide, and we do have a state-wide school board, but we could have one state-wide school board and do away with all the local school boards and just have one policy across the state.

I don’t think that’s appropriate. Educating a child in Memphis, Tennessee is going to be different than it is in Hancock County or Perry County. And so I believe in the local school board system. But that level of parental engagement as we’re seeing now is so critically important.

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.













Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson on Age-Inappropriate Wit and Wisdom Curriculum and Parental Engagement at the Local School Board Level

Tennessee House Majority Leader Senator Jack Johnson Confident Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill Will Pass


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 Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson to the newsmakers line to clarify and outline how a new bill set to pass would set guardrails on critical race theory being taught in public schools.

Leahy: We have State Senator Jack Johnson on the newsmaker line. Welcome and good morning Jack Johnson.

Johnson: Good morning, Michael and Crom. It’s great to be back with you guys.

Leahy: Well, State Senator Johnson, I sent you a text last night late. It was passed by bedtime, but it was important. I said, well, the Tennessee House has passed the bill banning critical race theory from K-12 public schools and it looks like a pretty good bill. It addresses the 11 specific tenants of critical race theory. It didn’t specifically say critical race theory.

Then I got a text from a grassroots group saying, oh, no, the state Senate didn’t pass it. There’s trouble in paradise. (Johnson laughs) To which I said, Jack, what’s up? And then you provided an explanation and share that with our audience, if you would, please.

Johnson: Sure. And thank you for the opportunity to do it, because I realized whenever we cast that procedural vote that it might be perceived last night that we were voting against the ban on teaching critical race theory in public schools. And that’s not the case at all. Because of our legislative process, we’re using a vehicle.

We’re using a bill that deals with another subject matter. But the caption of the bill, which is the way we work in Tennessee, the caption will hold the necessary language that we want to pass to ban the teaching of critical race theory. The Senate had already passed that bill, which, by the way, is sponsored by my friend Mike Bell, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and serves on the Education Committee.

And he’s very passionate about this issue. And he’s kind of taken the lead along with Brian Kelsey, who’s chairman of the Education Committee. And so the House put a mandatory language on the bill that we had already passed. When a bill has passed differently in each Chamber, then it has to go back to the other Chamber for that Chamber to either concur or non-concur with the action of the other Chamber.

When that bill came over, we had some language worked out with the House. But the stakeholders decided they wanted to make it even stronger. They want to make the language to ban critical race theory or the teaching of those tenants, as you say, even stronger longer than was originally drafted. And the only way procedurally to do that is to go to a conference committee.

Now that language has been worked out, you will see it. It will be made public later today because we’ll have that conference committee today. It’s going to add a couple of elements to what was passed by the House. And again, we are working collaboratively with the House on this. There is almost universal agreement among the Republican supermajorities that we want to get this passed in the best manner possible.

So we’ll have a conference committee today. The conference committee report will be taken out by each Chamber. It will pass overwhelmingly. We’re going to send it to the governor, and he will sign it.

Leahy: The conference committee makes the strengthening additions to the bill today. Does it go before the House for a vote in the Senate today or tomorrow?

Johnson: Today. That is correct. Let’s say that the House and again, it’s not the case with this bill, but it’s just procedurally, the only way we can get to where we want to go. But if you have a bill and the House and Senate have different versions and each Chamber is resolute in their version of the bill and the other side will not concur to the changes of the other Chamber, then you end up going to a conference committee.

And that’s where you sit down and negotiate and work it out. And if you can come to an agreement, that committee adopts a conference committee report and it’s signed off on by the members of the conference committee and then the bill is brought back to each Chamber, and you adopt that conference committee report just as if it was a brand new bill. And that’s what we’re going to do today. So we can get the strongest language possible past relative to critical race theory.

Leahy: So we’re talking with State Senator Jack Johnson, the majority leader in the state Senate. So it sounds to me, Jack, like our headline tonight at midnight, when we publish each day’s news stories at The Tennessee Star will be something like Tennessee General Assembly Passes Strongest Anti-Critical Race Theory Bill in America.

Johnson: That’s what I expect to be the case, and that’s what we want to do. Tennessee is a leader. We want to be a leader on this particular issue. But let me say something else, Michael, if I could as well. And I’ve had as you might imagine, dozens, if not hundreds of great conversations with constituents, moms, and dads whose children have been exposed to some of this material in Williamson County.

Public education is a partnership between the state and the local level we created. Many many years ago we created school districts, political subdivisions that act as school districts with local school boards for a reason. And that’s because teaching kids in inner-city Memphis is going to be different than Hancock County. And so you need local authority.

It’s still incredibly important, no matter what language we passed today and send to the governor to become law, that people are still engaged with their local school boards. And that is certainly happening in Williamson County and it’s happening all over the state. So this battle to stop this does not stop or end when we pass this legislation.

Because if there is a school system out there somewhere in Tennessee that is intent on teaching this propaganda to our kids, they’ll find a way to do it. So we’re going to set these guardrails and these parameters. And I think when you see the language we pass today, it’s very thorough, but it’s still critically important that people be engaged with their local school boards.

Carmichael: Senator, I’ve got a question for you. In the bigger cities, the teachers’ unions have such immense power, and the teachers’ unions essentially control the school boards. What can the state do about that? Because I understand what you’re saying. And it’s a nice idea that the local school board actually cares about the students.

It’s a nice idea. But in the bigger cities, the school board cares more about the union and the bureaucracy. And the result is that the education and many of our government-run schools, especially for Black and Hispanic children is just inadequate. It’s just terrible. What can be done about that where you just have these special interests that spend enormous amounts of money to get their people on the school board and control those giant budgets for their own interests?

Johnson: No, you’re exactly right, Crom. The teachers’ unions do have enormous power, especially in the larger cities. And they have significant influence over the election of school board members. We’ve made progress at the state level, but there’s more to do.  Michael will remember, you may as well Crom, several years ago when I carried the legislation to end collective bargaining.

At one time, you think it’s bad now, at one time, school districts were required under state law to engage in collective bargaining with the local teachers union to pass raises, salaries, all kinds of things, working conditions, and so forth. And we did finally get that legislation passed to revert. It was the only instance in Tennessee where there was state-mandated collective bargaining with the union. So we did away with that, which was a significant step. But there is more to do.

Carmichael: Does the state have the authority to just do away with teachers’ unions in the state of Tennessee?

Johnson: No. It’s an interesting legal question. If people want to be part of an organization, then they can under state law. You hit the nail on the head, though, Crom. The problem comes in when they get so engaged and virtually are Kingmakers, if you will, relative to the local school board and the people who serve on the school board. So if the union doesn’t sign off or endorse you, in some instances, you can’t get elected.

So defacto they do have control over the body. What the state can do, and we know that we have serious issues in, particularly in Memphis and Nashville, relative to public education the governor and our Education Department is focused like a laser on those particular districts. We fund roughly two-thirds of their budget, so we have significant influence over them. But statutorily you do have a school board that has control over local decisions.

Leahy: Jack, later today, after the state Senate and the state House pass this strengthened anti-critical race theory bill, do you have any indication from the governor’s office as to his attitude about signing this particular bill?

Johnson: So I’ve not asked him specifically, but I know that the stakeholders, the chair of the Education Committee from both the Senate and the House have been in conversations with him as well. And I never speak for the governor or commit for him, but I feel quite confident that he will receive this legislation favorably and sign it. I’d be surprised if he didn’t.

Leahy: Well, sometimes there’s bad news we talk about politically. This sounds like it’s very good news.

Listen to the full second 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