Guest Hosts Grant Henry and Ben Cunningham Discuss the Need for Tennessee General Assembly Special Session

Guest Hosts Grant Henry and Ben Cunningham Discuss the Need for Tennessee General Assembly Special Session


Live from Music Row Friday 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. – guest hosts Grant Henry and Ben Cunningham talk in studio about the need for a special session in the Tennessee General Assembly and for Lt. Governor Randy McNally to identify the momentum.

Henry: My name is Grant Henry. Enunciation for those in the know Ben Cunningham. I work for an organization called American’s for Prosperity. Ben’s over there. He’s just like anything and everything and uncomparable. You probably know him from the Nashville Tea Party.

Cunningham: Wow. What an introduction.

Henry: I tried my best on that one. (Laughter) I’ll give you $5 for that one. It’s great to be here. It’s fun to sit in when Michael is gone and rant and rave. There’s so much going on, you teether between total depression and slight optimism these days. But we’ve got a fight.

And there are so many good fighters out there to inspire us. I was reading an article yesterday about people standing up. Molly Hemmingway who is with The Federalist.

But she’s one of these people who is fearless. And we’ve just got to all be like Molly, basically, and stand up and fight for these basic values. And that’s what people were doing yesterday at the Capitol.

Henry: Here’s one of the headlines coming from The Tennessee Star. By the way, The Tennessee Star has some of the best reporting in the state as far as I’m concerned.

Chris Butler and Laura Baigert out there doing some incredible things amongst many others at The Tennessee Star. Here’s the headline. Angry Tennessee Residents Burden by Covid 19 Policies Rally for Special Legislative Session Without Delay.

I know you were streaming this on the Nashville Tea Party page. I streamed it on my old talk radio page Real News. Here’s the first paragraph.

There were hundreds of Tennesse and said their displeasure with COVID-19 mandates has intensified, and it’s time for Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally to relent and allow a special legislative session so that the state can fight back.

Now, I know a few other senators maybe like Senator Roberts in particular, I believe. I know he wrote a letter calling for a special session saying that he would like to see these six things that he outlined in a special session.

I think there are 70 House members in the state, don’t quote me on this number. There are 70 some in the House that have signed. And dozens of others, maybe 15-17 in the Senate that have signed on.

Cunningham: The House is ready to go, It looks like.

Henry: And Senator Robert says that he wants to see the following things addressed if and when a special session has opened up. One prohibiting mass mandates in public building schools and universities. Two recognizing acquired immunity or immunity from nobody satisfying vaccine mandates.

Three prohibiting Bridgestone Arena and other venues receiving government funds from implementing vaccine requirements, mask mandates, or segregating attendees according to vaccine status.

Four, placing the county health departments of these six counties under the direct oversight of the General Assembly. Five challenging federal overreach exercises by President Joe Biden related to these vaccine mandates.

And six and finally requiring executive orders issued during a state of emergency lasting over 90 days to be reviewed by a joint committee.

But quickly before I kick it to you, Ben, I did find an interesting that Chris Butler in that first paragraph touched on how it’s time for Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally to relent. You think it’s all hinging on him, as they say?

Cunningham: I think he’s the kind of the figurehead of the roadblock at this point. But Randy McNally is a good guy. And I think any politician, you can lower their threshold of action by rising up and saying, this is what we want.

And it’s extremely impressive to me that so many members of the House have already said that. They have stepped out publicly. They are willing to say, we need to have a special session.

And a special session like you were saying there, it’s not just Randy McNally who came out with a press release and said, hey, we’ll fight the Biden administration through the DAs and the legal avenues. But this is also about state issues.

This is not just about federal issues. If it was just about federal issues, I would say that he has a point. But I don’t think he has a point because lawmakers want to address the state, like Bridgestone Arena and perhaps the governor’s emergency powers.

There are all kinds of things that we need to talk about, and it’s going to take a few days to talk about this to sort it out. And I think that’s what these legislators want, and I’m certainly in favor of it. And I would like to see them come together.

This is the top issue for Tennesseeans right now. I don’t know if there’s any question about it. And we expect our legislators to respond when people say, hey, you need to come to Nashville.

As our representatives, you need to sit down, develop a consensus like the Supreme Court says and many of the justices say. We can’t decide on everything. It’s up to the legislative bodies to be deliberative and develop a consensus.

That’s what legislation and legislating are all about. And that’s driven by the people. And that’s why the rally yesterday was so important. And people who are opposed to the special session right now like Randy McNally can be convinced if enough people rise up and enough senators rise up and say, we want to a special session.

I don’t think it’s a question that Randy McNally would come around and say, okay. Hey, I see this huge groundswell of momentum basically building for this special session, and I think he would probably relent if he did see that wave of support.

Henry: I found it interesting yesterday, Senator Janice Bowling, again, I’d highly recommend you go watch the live stream on somebody’s account to see the legislators that were there, what they said, and the addresses they gave.

But Senator Janice Bowling, in particular, made the remark that if the Tennessee General Assembly calls for a special session, there are no restrictions upon what they can and cannot consider while they’re in that special session.

And I don’t presume to understand all the mechanics behind how this works. So take what I’m saying with a bit of a grain of salt. But if the General Assembly calls for one, they can kind of consider anything and everything on the table.

Conversely, if Governor Lee were to call for one, it’s limited exclusively to the things that Governor Lee calls for. And I find that interesting because I know there have been several talking points or push back about this idea of Joe Biden coming out with these vaccine mandates.

And they’re ridiculous. And in my personal opinion, the disgusting nature of some of the things that he’s doing withholding these antibody treatments. We’ll get into more of that later, right?

Cunningham: That’s maddening.

Henry: But at a practical level in the state, I do wonder here what can be done with e of the vaccine mandate stuff. And I also wonder, so much of this deals with the schools, Ben.

I want to get into this more in the show, but I’d love to know your thoughts on if we call for a special session, what can we do to consider doing something with education?

I believe education should create an environment that empowers the students to continually fulfill their unique potential. But it should also provide families and parents with the decisions about how to educate their children properly, giving parents more parental choice, right?

Every student should have equal access to education on equal terms regardless of their zip code and especially now dealing with some of the math stuff or the vaccine stuff or CRT stuff or whatever that stuff is, parents need more choice. More on this later on in the show. We’ll be right back after this break.

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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.













Former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell Weighs in on Texas Democrats’ Behavior and Her Background

Former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell Weighs in on Texas Democrats’ Behavior and Her Background


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 former Tennessee Speaker Beth Harwell in studio to talk about her background and weighs in on the Texas Democrats that fled their legislative duties.

Leahy: We are delighted to welcome to our microphones the former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Beth Harwell. Good morning, Beth.

Harwell: Good morning! Good to be with you this morning.

Leahy: Well, it’s great to be with you as well. And, you know, we were talking a little bit off-air about this. One of the things that we’ve tried to do with this program is to bring state legislators in and to kind of talk to them, get to know them, and learn kind of what their motivations are.

One of the things that are interesting is when we started this, we have a particular ideology that we promote. And there were a couple of contentious issues.

And we know that some of them were moderate members of the House and the state Senate. We kind of took exception to some of our reporting.

But what we found is many of those people we’ve had in studio here, and we’ve got to know them and talk to them about it, and it’s very interesting because once you get to know somebody well – you probably know this from your long record in public service –  you just sort of understand their motivations and you don’t get focused so much on the ideological differences. And so we found it very interesting to talk to these legislators.

Harwell: And I just wanted to thank you for that. I reached out to you just to say thank you for covering state government so well and including state legislators.

At the bottom of the day, state and local government impact your life within the federal government. We may not realize that, but it’s certainly true.

And I’m just pleased to see that we have a strong state legislature that’s doing its job and commend you for covering them.

Leahy: The greatest state in the United States of America, beyond a doubt, is Tennessee.

Harwell: You got it.

Leahy: It really is.

Harwell: It is. You understand that. You see all these people moving here, there’s a reason.

Leahy: Who wouldn’t want to live in Tennessee?

Harwell: That’s right.

Leahy: I mean really, no state income taxes, nice people, a good business environment, and a state legislature that is not full-time.

Harwell: That’s correct. I think that’s really refreshing. You hear so much from people in Washington who come and say to you that they’re visiting in their district. (Leahy chuckles) 

Well, my legislators don’t visit in their districts, they live in their districts. They go to church with their fellow citizens. They are members of exchange clubs and Rotary Clubs, so they’re involved in their community.

And I think that makes a tremendous difference. And the other vital thing to realize is that they live under the laws that they pass for everyone else. And that’s a great thing.

Leahy: Just as an aside as a former speaker of the Tennessee House, what’s your reaction to this, this is my term, not yours, the flea baggers, 67 Democrat members of the Texas House of Representatives, who when the governor called a special session to address election integrity bills, instead of participating in that, these 67 Democratic state legislators got in two chartered private planes not wearing their masks – a violation of numerous FAA rules and regulations, I believe.

And then they flew off to Washington, D.C. so that the Texas House of Representatives now does not have a quorum and can’t conduct business.

As a former speaker of the House of Representatives in Tennessee, how do you react to that?

Harwell: Well, it angers me. It truly angers me. And I absolutely agree that when they return home, they should be arrested.

They have a responsibility. If they don’t want to live up to that responsibility, you don’t run for office. But at the state legislative level, you have to be in attendance for the legislature to conduct its business.

And that’s totally unacceptable for them to have walked off. And it was just a publicity stunt. What was the point in going to Washington, D.C.?

Leahy: To have lunch with Kamala Harris apparently.

Harwell: Yes, apparently so.

Leahy: As I say, the legal but not legitimate vice president of the United States. My words, not yours. Beth, it’s interesting about this.

I saw that Governor Abbott, who is a pretty clever guy, said if we do these special sessions, I call them in 30 days, and if they’re not here and the 30 days is over,

I’m going to call another special session until the election of 2022. Apparently, these Texas Democrats may be outside the state for some time.

Harwell: For some time, yes. And, you know, it’s kind of a shame because they’re not even living up to their responsibility as the minority party.

As the minority party, you have a responsibility to try to make legislation better, to give your input. And they’re not doing that.

And now I’m a big believer in strong elections and strong controls on elections. And I think anyone that believes in fair democracy will believe that’s a good idea.

So I’m supportive of what the Tennessee legislature is wanting to do. But even if I wasn’t, I feel like I’d have a responsibility to sit at the table and try to help.

Leahy: During your time in the Tennessee House of Representatives, do you recall ever any members of the House of Representatives while you were a regular member or while you were a speaker, running away from their duty?

Harwell: I don’t. Now they came close during the agonizing state income tax.

Leahy: The agonizing state income tax back in 1999 to 2002. (Laughs)

Harwell: But we stayed and we worked it out. But there were some threats during that time. But during my tenure, I don’t recall any of that.

And by the way, I have to say on that note, you mentioned it earlier, we can be very proud that we don’t have state income taxes.

And one of my major goals when I became speaker was to eliminate the haul income tax. Because until we did that, we still technically had a state income tax.

Leahy: And tell our listeners what the haul income tax is – and I’m gonna say this – what it was.

Harwell: Yes. What it was. Which is a beautiful word.

Leahy: That’s a beautiful phrase.

Harwell: Yes. What it was. Well, it was a tax on dividends. And it really hurt working people because they save their money all these years.

And then when they came to retire, they had to pay this tremendous haul income tax – was a real incentive for people to move their assets to Florida. And we knew that we were losing people because of that.

Leahy: Of course. People are logical and rational.

Harwell: Right. But what I respected was we figured out a way to phase it out over a number of years so that the state budget was not harmed at the time.

We were not flooded with money the way they are now. So we did it in a very fiscally responsible way. But to eliminate a tax when you have the ability, that’s a wonderful thing.

Leahy: I should know this, Beth, but I’ll just ask you here on air, where are you from originally?

Harwell: Originally, I’m from Pennsylvania. I grew up there. But I came to Tennessee in 1974 to attend David Lipscomb University.

Leahy: David Lipscomb. Did you go to Lipscomb?

Harwell: Yeah. Went there for four years. Loved it.

Leahy: No kidding? Are you Church of Christ?

Harwell: Yes. I was raised Church of Christ. And in Pennsylvania, there are not many of them.

Leahy: No, they’re not. Well, we have something in common. I’m also a Church of Christ.

Harwell: I didn’t realize that.

Leahy: Converted just before I married my lovely wife, who’s from Texas. And, of course, as you know, the Church of Christ is centered in Tennessee and Texas.

Harwell: And Texas. Right. I had a sister who went to Abilene Christian.

Leahy: My lovely wife went to Abilene Christian. My daughter went to wait for it … Pepperdine.

Harwell: Pepperdine! Okay.

Leahy: Which is technically Church of Christ.

Harwell: It’s Church of Christ.

Leahy: But it’s in Malibu.

Harwell: My other sister went to Harding. So we’ve got all the Church of Christ covered this morning.

Leahy: Absolutely. In Searcy, Arkansas. Lots of people in Nashville went to Harding.

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.
Photo “Texas Democrats” by Dan Patrick.












Tennessee State Senator Paul Bailey Discusses Upcoming Special and Legislative Session in the General Assembly

Tennessee State Senator Paul Bailey Discusses Upcoming Special and Legislative Session in the General Assembly


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 (R) Senator Paul Bailey to the newsmakers line.

At the top of the second hour, Bailey discussed plans for the upcoming special session which would revisit education options for students and offering a potential summer session while managing budget expectations. He also outlined plans for TennCare and Medicaid ensuring that people currently served would not suffer any reduction in services.

Leahy: We are joined now by State Senator Paul Bailey who is the chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Welcome, Senator Bailey.

Bailey: Well, thank you very much for having me this morning Michael Patrick.

Leahy: Well, we’re delighted to have you on here Senator Bailey. And I just have to say your official portrait at the Tennessee General Assembly is just is fantastic. (Bailey chuckles) You’ve got a cowboy hat on and you just you know, you look great. (Chuckles)

Bailey: Well, thank you. You know most people know back in the district that that my family and I we ride and show quarter horses. So I just thought it would be kind of a different look and I’d stand out above all the rest if I had my cowboy hat on in my official state photo.

Leahy: Well, officially we like the look Senator Bailey. So that’s great.

Bailey: Well thank you.

Leahy: That’s a good move on your part. So that as Chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee you have a very important job in the state senate. And there are only 33 members of the state senate. I think what is it this time? Is it 27 Republicans and six Democrats this time I think?

Bailey: Yes, sir. That is correct. We did lose a member from Davidson County. Steve Dickerson a Republican member so that moved our number from 28 down to 27.

Leahy: So the General Assembly convened yesterday and I guess this week it’s mostly an organizational activity going on. And then next Tuesday you will convene in a special session to deal with education issues do I have that right?

Bailey: Yes, you do. Now, let me say this week we’re also going to tackle passing a resolution to accept a block grant offer from CMS in regards to TennCare. Back in 2019, I carried legislation sent to CMS to revitalize their TennCare system through a block grant. We were the first state in the nation to actually apply for the block grant.

The Trump administration is offering this to us. And so we are trying to get a resolution passed by the end of this week. So we may go through into Friday to get this done. So everyone knows that unfortunately, Trump’s going to be leaving on the 20th. So we have to have this resubmitted to his administration to Seema Verma who is the CMS director for approval and that’s huge news for the state of Tennessee.

Leahy: And it looks like a little curveball has been thrown it seems to me. Again I’m just reading the news and perhaps get your reaction to this. So Jim Cooper the representative from the Nashville area in the House of Representatives apparently has sent a letter calling on President-elect Biden to cancel this block grant. Have you seen that?

Bailey: Yes, I have heard that. And so here’s the thing. Tennessee’s current TennCare waiver and Medicaid waiver is due to renew on June 30 of this year in 2021. We will be negotiating with CMS for a new waiver regardless. So this is a new innovative idea that we work with Senator Alexander’s office. We work with the TennCare folks. We work with a whole host of people putting this block grant together.

If we’re allowed to do this, there’s absolutely no reduction of people currently served. And that’s one of the things that Jim Cooper and some of my Democratic colleagues will tell you that we’re going to throw people off. That’s absolutely not true. There’s no reduction in people served. There’s no reduction in benefits. There’s no reduction in provider rates. And there’s no reduction to the quality of care that they’ll get.

The idea behind the block grant is it’ll give us the ability to actually address broad. It’ll also give us the ability to restructure benefit packages to better cover the people that we currently serve. And also revitalize the pharmacy program. But here’s the big thing in this Michael Patrick. We will be able to share 50 percent in the savings that we’ve been sending back to Washington without another Tennessee taxpayer dollar being spent.

And when I say that there’s currently a budget neutrality cap. And we’ve been far below that within our Medicaid program for several years now. And this new block grant program will allow us to share in 50 percent of that cost savings and that’s where we’ll be able to administer a more efficient program.

(Commercial break)

Leahy: State Senator Bailey, what can we expect in the special session on education that starts next week?

Bailey: Well, basically the governor is focusing on learning laws, literacy, and also to work towards making sure local school districts and your local counties know that they will have the same budgeting formula, which is called the BEP formula to address, you know, their next upcoming school year which will be the ’21-’22 school year and teacher pay.

So what we’ve seen is that since this pandemic a lot of school districts are not doing in-person learning. We’ve seen a big decrease in our proficiency rates. And also you know our literacy of our third and fourth graders who are just not proficient in reading as they should be and math. So there’s going to be an offer for a summer program. It’ll be permissible by the state to the local school districts so if they choose to do this they can. And then of course basically focusing on teacher pay.

Leahy: So those are the two pieces of legislation you expect. When you say focusing on teacher pay, will this be an attempt to provide more pay for teachers?

Bailey: Yes, it will be.

Leahy: And then the second thing would be funding for summer programs?

Bailey: Summer programs. Exactly. And then of course the big piece is that legislators have been hearing from their school districts basically saying what do we need to expect in our BEP formula for the next school year? Because it’s all based on attendance. In-person attendance. And that’s the way Tennessee funds our school systems. And so when you’ve been and virtual learning and you’ve not actually been in attendance at the school, then school districts have gotten concerned that they are not going to be receiving the same amount of funding that they have been in previous years when students were actually doing in-person learning.

So they’re just wanting to know that they’re going to be able to receive at least the same amount of funding that they had been given in our last budget moving forward into the ’21-’22 budget because we assume that all districts should be back to in-person learning. I mean, I think that’s one of the biggest travesties that we’ve seen is these school districts have not gotten these students back in class and learning in class. And I just think that every school district in the state of Tennessee should have their students back in in-person learning.

Leahy: Senator Bailey, how long do you expect the special session to last? Then when would you go back into the regular session of the Tennessee General Assembly?

Bailey: Well again, there’s no set in date. The start date will be next Tuesday. There’s no said end date. I assume that we will finish it up by Thursday or Friday of next week. I can’t guarantee that. It could flow over into the following week. It just depends on how fast the committee system can work. It’ll be in the education committee and then it’ll move through finance and then ultimately to the floor. We may get all of this done next week because during the special session that’s the only legislation that will be being heard in committee.

And so it’ll be totally focused on that. So if they need to meet Tuesday, Wednesday Thursday through the committee process, they’ll do that and then go to the floor on Friday to vote. That’s what we’ll do. Or we may come back on Monday. But I’m assuming that it will be the same as this week and we’ll be asked to keep our calendar open for next Friday so that if we end up having to go to the floor and vote on this final proposal that’s coming out of committee system that’s what we’ll do.

Leahy: To your knowledge, has when was the last time that a General Session of the Tennessee General Assembly, a regular session was interrupted in the middle by a special session?

Bailey: When Governor Haslam was proposing expanding the Medicaid program during his second term. Which would have been about six years ago. That was the last time that I remember when we came into session that we immediately went into a special session.

Leahy: Interesting. I had forgotten about that. And how effective was that special session back then?

Bailey: Well, obviously it went on for a week and ultimately his proposal hunted make it out of the first committee and the Senate. So it was pretty much dead on arrival there. And so the session ended in about three days, I believe the special session for the Medicaid.

Leahy: Do you have an expectation that this special session will be different? And that the legislation will move forward to completion during the special session?

Bailey: Yes, I do because education is something that the legislature deals with annually. It’s a huge part of the state budget and we’re just trying to make sure that our school districts understand that they’re going to be receiving their funding for their ’21-22′ school year. We want to make sure that we’re addressing the literacy programs that the governor is proposing to the general assembly.

So I expect this to be totally different I expect that lawmakers will get in there. They’ll work through the minutiae. Which again education is minutiae to me. But they’ll work through and make sure that we have legislation that will be passed and that way it’ll give our school districts and their children and frankly their moms and dads comfort in knowing that they’ll have a good education system moving forward.

Leahy: If this had been addressed as part of the regular session of the Tennessee General Assembly whatever the past would have happened that would have taken place when typically by April as opposed to January?

Bailey: Yes, sir. And that’s the thing. So a lot of counties are working on their budget as well as the school districts. And so they’re up against a deadline. And so they’re needing to know whether or not they would have to adjust their local budgets for any reduction in state funding. So that’s another reason that we wanted to go ahead and address this early so that your local governments have some comfort there in knowing that the state is going to continue to fund our schools in a way that they needed to be funded.

Leahy: So it sounds like the governor’s thinking was are these school districts around the state having planning problems because they don’t know what the revenues are going to be. If we just address this in the regular session and they don’t find that out till April it will make the fall a lot more difficult for them to plan for it. Is that the rationale then for the special session?

Bailey: Yes sir. I think so.

Leahy: Well good. You seem to be optimistic that it will in the in a couple of weeks yield the legislation that the governor seeking?

Bailey: I think so. Obviously, this is the governor’s special session. He is going to be presenting his proposed legislation. This is not the legislators’ legislation until it comes into the committee system. And then we ultimately pass it. There will be tweaks to it. There will be you know, legislators will get in and they’ll put their fingerprints on it.

And we’ll be hearing from our local school districts as far as whether or not they think that this is a good program and what they would like to maybe see changed. I can tell you that my local school districts back in the Upper Cumberland are very optimistic about what the governor’s proposing. And they’re looking forward to seeing exactly what we pass.

Leahy: You know, I think it’s been very helpful to our listeners to explain the rationale here for this and it makes sense as you explain it in terms of the timing. One last question on education. Do you anticipate during this special session any attempt to revisit the Education Savings Account or voucher bills at all that is currently in litigation?

Bailey: Well, I’m not 100 percent sure. And I think the keyword that you’ve mentioned is the litigation and what just took place in there unfortunately in the House of Representatives this past Friday. We’re not all 100 percent sure that they were just there to raid those offices.

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