State Senator Jack Johnson Details the Process by Which Governor Lee’s Proposed Legislation Is Carried

State Senator Jack Johnson Details the Process by Which Governor Lee’s Proposed Legislation Is Carried

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 in studio to explain the process by which the Governor’s legislation is carried.

Leahy: In studio State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson is here in studio for this last segment. You got to go up to do some business.

Johnson: I’ve got to get to work. I work for the people in Williamson County. I got to go clock in.

Leahy: I know you’re not going to be able to stick around for News Potpourri, but you can make it there in time. It’s close to here.

Johnson: It’s a very long drive. (Chuckles)

Leahy: But I wanted to take this last segment here, Jack, to talk to you a little bit about the process by which the state legislature reviews the budget proposal set forward by the governor in the State of the State Address. And it was a long list of things that he wants to accomplish, and some of them, I think, like the transportation infrastructure are very promising, depending on the details. And then other things like this $350 million for sports facilities in Memphis.

I don’t like that at all. But tell us what the process is where you as a state Senate majority leader,  and how you work through that process, what your relationship with the governor is, what your duties are, and then what that back room conversations are.

Johnson: The way the process works in Tennessee is the elected leader who is the leader of the party, of the governor. So we have a Republican governor. So the Republican leader in the Senate and the Republican leader in the House are the sponsors of everything the governor would like to do from a legislative standpoint.

Leahy: When you say the leader, you talk about the majority leader.

Johnson: In this case it is, but let’s say we had a Democratic governor and we had a Republican majority in the legislature. Then it would be the Democratic leader or the minority leader who would be the sponsor of the governor’s legislation. But in this case, you’re right. We have a Republican governor and we have a Republican majority.

Leahy: But it’s not Randy McNally and it’s not Speaker Cameron Sexton, Randy McNally, the president of the state Senate and our lieutenant governor.

Johnson: Correct.

Leahy: Or the Speaker of the House Cam Sexton. It is the majority leader in the House, William Lambert and the majority leader in the state Senate that’s you, Jack Johnson. Why is it that the governor’s legislation is not carried by the Speaker of the House or the state Senate president?

Johnson: Sure. We have the speaker of the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally. We have the speaker of the House. They are elected by their chamber. So they are the presiding officer, if you will, over the House and then over the Senate. My role is more of a partisan role, even though certainly Randy McNally is a Republican. Cameron Sexton is a Republican. They are elected by the body.

Leahy: They handle the entire body, meaning all the Democrats there as well as the Republicans. Therefore, they could not be the partisan sponsor of these bills that the Governor wants.

Johnson: Typically not. And it’s very unusual for the Speakers to file legislation with their name on it. My role, and Leader Lambert’s role, is to basically be the liaison, if you will, for our majorities in both the House and the Senate.

And so when the Governor has something he or she would like to have done, be it a legislative initiative or the budget, and I’m the sponsor of the budget in the Senate, leader Lambert is the sponsor of the budget in the House. And so it’s our job to shepherd that legislation through.

I always want to point out that it’s also our job to go back to the Governor and say, hey, this is not getting a favorable reception. It’s getting a bit of a cool breeze here on what you’ve proposed, Governor. And so we work through all that. We have those conversations.

Leahy: So have you had those conversations in the previous budget year with the Governor? And he said, you know, State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, you have a point. Let’s take that off for this year. Have you had that happen?

Johnson: Absolutely. And I’ll say this about Governor Bill Lee. He is a collaborator. He wants to work in partnership with the General Assembly. We’ve had those conversations, and I’ve had to go back to and say, hey, I don’t think we can get the votes to do X. We can do Y and Z, but I can’t get the votes to do X.

And so we’ve modified or changed whatever he is wanting to do. The budget is the most important bill we pass every year. It’s actually the only constitutionally required piece of legislation we have to pass every year. The way the Constitution lays it out, the Governor is required to propose a state budget, which he did on Monday night, and he delivers a budget document.

And that’s a proposal, and that’s a starting place. He has weeks and weeks of budget hearings with all the various agencies and departments of the government, and they come with their budget needs and say, hey, Governor, we need more money to do this, or hey, we’re able to save some money by not doing this.

And he puts together a budget proposal and then that is presented. And actually, yesterday morning, the Commissioner of Finance and Administration, Jim Bryson, my predecessor in the State Senate ran for Governor back in 2006, which is the year I ran for the Senate seat.

So, a great friend. And he did an extensive and more in-depth presentation of the Governor’s proposed budget. So there’s an old saying, though. The Governor proposes the General Assembly disposes. And so that budget proposal, we will now have hearings. We’ll have testimony.

All the different departments and state government have to come in and make their independent budget proposal that is included in the governor’s budget. We ask questions, why are you spending money on this? Why can’t you save money by doing this?

And it’s a very grueling, in-depth process, but it should be because we need to go through that budget with a fine tooth comb. And we do, both in the House and the Senate. And later in session, there will be an amendment. We call it the budget amendment that usually comes in March sometimes or sometime in March.

And that’s where the governor maybe wants to change a few things. And then ultimately the legislature can take things out of the governor’s proposed budget, put things in, change it, modify it. But it’s done collaboratively with the governor and his staff. It’s a very effective process.

Leahy: So, you are sitting there for the State of the State and listening, the night before last Monday night, and as you listen to the speech, do you hear proposals that you say, well, that’s interesting, I wonder what that’s all about? Does that happen?

Johnson: It does. And we get a briefing prior to the governor’s State of the State, legislative leadership does. So we have a pretty good general idea of what’s in there, but it’s always good to hear the governor lay out his vision.


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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.



Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson Details Bill to Prohibit Gender Transition Treatments for Minors

Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson Details Bill to Prohibit Gender Transition Treatments for Minors

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 State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson in studio to explain Senate Bill one and House Bill one that would prohibit children under the age of 18 from having gender transition procedures whether surgically or medically.

Leahy: In studio, Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Good morning, Jack.

Johnson: Good morning, Michael. Good to be with you in studio.

Leahy: In studio! You’re right in the middle of the Tennessee General Assembly and your schedule just worked out so that you’ve got an hour and 15 minutes to hang out with us here in studio. Thank you so much for coming in.

Johnson: I’m happy to do it. I actually stayed in Nashville last night, which I do sometimes during session when it’s an early morning followed by a late night. And so I was already in the neighborhood, let’s say.

Leahy: We just really appreciate it and it’s fun. You and I have been friends for a long time and we have a nice back-and-forth and we’ve know each other and trust each other, but also our listeners enjoy hearing the inside story of what’s going on. Mark Meckler, the head of the Convention of States, a former Tea Party guy, I asked him this question yesterday.

And the question was, there are like 30 states where the Republicans control both houses of the state legislature. And I said, you know, some of those states are really doing great things, some of them not so great things. Can you explain the difference between these states? And he had a really great answer, one word. Leadership.

If you’ve got good conservative leadership that’s working kind of cooperatively with each other, then you can get good conservative things done. And I have to tell you, just looking at this from afar, often the Tennessee General Assembly, they’ll meet and it’s like drama.

Somebody is mad at somebody else and yelling about this bill, yelling about that. That’s a democratic process, I have to tell you. Not that the topics aren’t interesting, but there’s been such little controversy so far, it’s been kind of boring, Jack. (Laughter)

Johnson: We’re not getting enough material for your show as substantively from issues it is. But usually, you have somebody yelling and railing at the moon and we’d like to kind of keep that little interpersonal drama going.

Leahy: But there you are. You’ve got the lieutenant governor, Randy McNally. You’re the state Senate majority leader. And then you’ve got the Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton and the House Majority Leader, William Lamberth. It’s a well-running machine from what I can tell.

Johnson: Well, it is. And Michael, you know this, and most of your listeners do, but we got a lot of new people, right, that have moved in. And I like to remind folks that have just moved in. Republicans have only controlled this state for 12 years.

It was January of 2011, the first time since the Civil War that Republicans had the governor’s office, the State House, and the State Senate. And fortunately, I’ve had a front-row seat to making history as a member of the General Assembly. And so my attitude and I think the attitude of many of my colleagues who lived in the state as you did under Democratic control for many, many years, when we got that control, it was not lost on us that, hey, we need to do something with this.

You don’t know how long you’re going to have it. So let’s make as much progress as we can. And I’m proud to say that we’ve talked about many times in that very short period of time, barely over a decade, we’ve made Tennessee, I believe, the most conservative state in the nation. We’re the least taxed and the least indebted.

Our pension plan is fully funded. We’re the safest place in the world to be an unborn child. I could go on and on about the things we’re doing, and that’s no different this year, this legislative session when you look at all the things we’re trying to tackle.

Leahy: Let’s talk about those things. A couple of important bills. We talked to State Representative Chris Todd.

Johnson: Yes. I heard him. He did a great job.

Leahy: About the bill that would basically prohibit a certain kind of conduct at, it’s called the Drag Queen Show, but it’s really for any kind of conduct that would either show some naked skin or mimic sex acts in front of children and that it would be first, a misdemeanor, and then on the second, offensive felony for the performer.

So that’s moving forward. Also, you’ve got this bill to stop transgender mutilation. Big bill. Tell us about that bill and where it stands right now in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Johnson: Sure. So that is SB1 and HB1. My good friend. Your good friend House Majority Leader William Lamberth is the sponsor in the House. And I’ve taken it all the way through the committee process in the Senate, and it is ready to go to the floor, could be on the floor for a final vote in the Senate on Monday evening. We’ll see where it ends up getting calendared, but certainly, I suspect next week. And that bill and then the adult entertainment bill is what I’ve tried to start calling it now.

Leahy: You’re right, that’s more accurate to describe. It’s not the drag queen bill, it’s the adult entertainment bill. It certainly was brought to attention because of some of these horrendous videos that have surfaced from places in Tennessee as well as other places. There was one down there in Chattanooga.

Johnson: There was one there where you had blatantly sexual activity taking place at a so called family friendly drag show. And that’s what brought it to our attention. But the bill specifically says you just can’t do these types of sexually explicit things in front of kids. We very heavily regulate that type of entertainment when it takes place in adult-oriented establishments.

And then SB1, which just says we’re not going to do anything to a child based on their sexual identity or gender dysphoria that’s irreversible. We’re not going to do that medicinally or surgically. When they turn 18, that’s the age of maturity in the state of Tennessee, they can do what they want, but we’re going to protect these kids.

We’re going to love them. We’re going to get them the help they need. We’ve had lots of testimony from health experts relative to the mental illness that plagues some of these people and some of the other issues that they’re dealing with. And we want to love them. We want to help them get the help they need.

Many will get through this difficult time by the time they reach adulthood or early adulthood. And if not, and they turn eight on their 18th birthday, they want to schedule an appointment to go in and have their body modified or altered or start taking hormones or things that will change their body permanently, that’s a decision that needs to be made by an adult. This is common sense.

Leahy: I think so.

Johnson: I think it is.

Leahy: Everybody in our listening audience is saying, well, yeah, where’s the controversy? This just makes common sense.

Johnson: Unfortunately, though, there are some out there who believe differently.

Leahy: (Chuckles) We’ll get to that in a minute. But tell us where this bill is and how it’s going to move through the system you talked about it coming before the state Senate for a floor vote. And for our listeners, getting a bill for a floor vote, that’s a big deal.

Johnson: It is a big deal. Most of the work done on legislation is done in committees. The vast majority, not everything, but the vast majority of bills that make it to the floor will pass and pass overwhelmingly. So far, SB1, and HB1, dealing with these transgender surgeries on minors, we’ve had two votes in the Senate. They were both party-line votes.

It was in the Health and Welfare Committee last week and passed out seven to one. There was only one Democrat on the committee, and then I had it in the Judiciary Committee yesterday, and the vote was seven-two. Two Democrats voted against it.

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.



State Senator Johnson on Local Government: ‘When They Are Dysfunctional and Ineffective, It Is Our Responsibility as a State to Step in and Take Action’

State Senator Johnson on Local Government: ‘When They Are Dysfunctional and Ineffective, It Is Our Responsibility as a State to Step in and Take Action’

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 (R-Franklin) in studio to discuss the relation between state and local governments. Johnson called to decrease the number of Metro Nashville city council members.

Leahy: In studio right now, a very good friend, State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Jack, once again, thank you. You’re in the middle of a session, and you’re spending, you know, an hour and a half with us this morning. Thanks for spending the time here.

Johnson: I’m happy to. There’s a lot going on, a lot we need to talk about.

Leahy: Let’s talk about how the state government basically authorizes all local governments, and there’s a bill that would reduce the number of council members for certain kinds of government. I think it’s sort of the combined Metro city-county governments like we have in Nashville, Trousdale, and what is the third?

Johnson: I think it was Moore.

Leahy: Okay, so this would be relevant for those three kinds of entities. And right now, Metro Nashville Council has an unmanageable 40-member Metro Council. Tell us what this bill would do.

And it sounds like a good government bill to me, but some are saying this is punishment doled out to Nashville by the mean Tennessee General Assembly because of the Republican National Convention. They rejected it here in 2024. Tell us about the bill.

Johnson: Sure. The bill is sponsored by, again, my friend and colleague, House Majority Leader William Lamberth. And on the Senate side, Senator Bo Watson, chairman of our Finance Ways and Means Committee from Hamilton County, has the bill in the Senate, and it does exactly what you said it would.

It would put a cap on the number of council members that can be elected to a metropolitan form of government. Nashville has a city council now that is grossly dysfunctional and has been at odds with the General Assembly on numerous issues.

And you touched on something that is very important for people to understand. You may agree or disagree with the effort to do this, but understand that all political subdivisions, cities, counties, school boards, and utility districts, are things that are created by and are accountable to the General Assembly and to the state.

Leahy: To the state.

Johnson: Exactly. Our constitution gives us that sovereign power to create political subdivisions as we deem necessary. And let me be very clear. I believe in local governments. I’m glad we have a city of Franklin and a city of Hendersonville. I’m glad we have Wilson County and Rutherford County.

I think local governments play a very, very important role in government. But when they are dysfunctional and ineffective, it is our responsibility as a state to step in and take action. And that’s what we’re contemplating with regard to the city of Nashville.

I remind your listeners that on at least two different occasions, the comptroller has been within inches of having to step in and take over their budget because they were unable to put together a balanced budget as they are required to do under Tennessee law and under the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office.

Leahy: And the city of Nashville and Davidson County is a fiscal disaster because there are huge unfunded liabilities for health care retirees who work for the Metro Nashville government. Huge.

Johnson: They’ve taken on an enormous amount of debt over the years. And so I think it’s reasonable, and by the way, we would do this with any other local government if we thought it was necessary as well. People like to draw attention, and it’s reasonable and understandable about the decision relative to the Republican National Convention.

Now, keep in mind that’s a decision to turn that down and the ability to host that convention, which would have been a multi-hundred million dollar economic impact, not just to Nashville, but the state of Tennessee. Every hotel room in Williamson County that I represent would have been full.

Every hotel room in Rutherford County and in Wilson County. People coming to attend that convention would be spending money all over Tennessee. How many people would come to that convention from somewhere or maybe another country?

And while they’re here going to the convention, they decide to drive to Memphis and go to Beale Street or Graceland or drive to Pigeon Forge and go to Dollywood or come down to Franklin and visit Carnton Plantation.

They decided to not pursue that convention for petty partisan reasons. And it was a horrible decision. That’s not why we’re looking at restructuring the council, but it certainly is an example of why we need to do so. It’s one of many, many examples.

Leahy: Will this bill pass through the legislature, and will the governor sign it?

Johnson: I think the bill has tremendous momentum and is making progress. And my sense is right now that it will pass the General Assembly. And again, I never speak for the governor, but he’s not vetoed a single bill yet that has been passed by the General Assembly.

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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 “Jack Johnson” by Jack Johnson. Background Photo “Metro City Hall” by Michael Rivera. CC BY-SA 4.0.
















Across the State, Senator Jack Johnson Sees Signs of a Red Tsunami in Tennessee Midterms

Across the State, Senator Jack Johnson Sees Signs of a Red Tsunami in Tennessee Midterms

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 Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson in the studio to talk about campaigning for other Republican Tennessee House and Senate candidates and the sentiment of blue-state refugees.

Leahy: In the studio, our very good friend, State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Jack, you don’t have a challenger in the election five days from today.

And so you’ve been out around the state campaigning for fellow state legislators who are Republicans. I guess you are campaigning for state Senate candidates and for state House candidates.

Johnson: Sure. Obviously, my focus is more on the Senate because that’s where I serve, and I’m the Majority Leader of the Senate, the Republican leader. But certainly, I’ve got great friends over in the House, and a few of them have asked me to help out in various respects, and happy to do that. We certainly want the House to come back and maintain its supermajority.

Leahy: They are 74-25.

Johnson: Exactly. And we actually are poised to potentially pick up a couple of seats. Again, I think the Senate will stay 27 to 6: 27 Republicans, 6 Democrats. But my friends over in the House, Speaker Sexton and Leader Lamberth, are telling me that they may actually pick up a couple of seats.

Leahy: So you were first elected back in 2006?

Johnson: 2006, that’s correct.

Leahy: And what was the Senate composition then?

Johnson: Interestingly, when I came in in January of 207 and 33 members, we had 16 Republicans, 16 Democrats, and one Independent. And if you remember that very famous vote for lieutenant governor.

We elected our lieutenant governor Speaker of the Senate in the Senate. That’s a Senate vote. That’s the very first vote I ever cast. And that was when Ron Ramsey, surprisingly, defeated John Wilder to be Speaker of the Senate-lieutenant governor.

And it wasn’t because the one Independent voted. We knew the Independent was going to vote for the Democrat, but we didn’t know Ron Ramsay knew at the time that there was a Democrat that was going to vote for him. So it was a very surprising, very exciting time.

Leahy: In other states, the lieutenant governor is elected. There are some peculiarities of the Tennessee Constitution, and one of them is that the lieutenant governor of the state is selected by the state Senate.

Johnson: That’s correct, yes.

Leahy: Which is interesting. The other little interesting thing that we made a big deal about here – and I was so delighted with the way it finally came out – Tennessee is the only state in the Union where the attorney general is selected by the state supreme court.

And we were highly critical of the problem with the separation of powers, et cetera, associated with that. And we reported on some of the candidates and pointed out some flaws in one of the candidates, who was considering it. And we encouraged the state supreme court to be transparent, and they were.

And I have to tell you, they have selected a conservative superstar as our attorney general, Jonathan Skrmetti. He’s leading the way already. He’s only been in office for two months. He’s probably the most effective attorney general in that two-month period of any in the United States. Who woulda thunk it?

Johnson: I’ve known Jonathan for a while and I worked with him when he was in the governor’s office. And I had high hopes and high expectations if in fact he became attorney general, and he ultimately did. And that’s who the supreme court selected.

And I’m like you, I could not be happier. And already working with his office, it’s been a real pleasure. We’ve had some interactions on some different things and legislation we’re working on, and he’s going to do a great job.

Leahy: And so it’s interesting how I had one set of expectations about it because of the peculiarity of the Tennessee State Constitution. In this instance, the outcome has been fabulous.

Johnson: And let me be clear, I have supported some of those efforts. My good friend Senator Ken Yager, who is chairman of the Republican Caucus, had legislation to provide for a confirmation process by the general assembly.

I still support that and I think those conversations will continue. But given the process we have, I think we’ve landed with a really exceptional attorney general.

Leahy: For the next eight years, if all goes well. I think in terms of the constitutional separation of powers, checks and balances, I think adding to the Tennessee State Constitution, an amendment that would allow the Tennessee General Assembly to confirm the appointment of the state supreme court, would be the perfect solution, in my view.

Johnson: Just as we do with the appellate court judges.

Leahy: Good point.

Johnson: We put that into place. Justices on the supreme court and then appellate court judges are appointed by the governor. But we put in a confirmation process.

Leahy: It just makes sense.

Johnson: It gives the voters more direct accountability through the general assembly to be involved in that process.

Leahy: James Madison would approve of that. I believe. (Johnson chuckles)

Johnson: I believe you’re right.

Leahy: The father of the Constitution and who believes in the concept of checks and balances and separation of powers.

Johnson: Absolutely.

Leahy: So let’s talk about your travels around the state. Where have you been recently and are people saying different things in different parts of the state?

Johnson: When you look at the electorate and what they’re passionate about – and like you said, the mood of voters across the state – I think clearly the focus is on Washington. When you’re voting, if you haven’t yet, and you go to vote, you will be voting for the governor and your state Senate if your state senate seat is up in this cycle or in the state representative.

But you’ll also be voting for a member of Congress, because all nine of our congressional seats are up this time. So you’re voting for federal offices as well as state offices. And what I’ve seen across the state – and I’ve been to East Tennessee, I was in Dayton, Tennessee supporting Adam Lowe, who is a fabulous candidate for Senate to replace Senator Mike Bell.

I’ve been in Germantown supporting Brent Taylor, who is a candidate to take the seat previously held by Senator Brian Kelsey. I was in Rutherford County last week for Don White. I’ve been traveling the state a lot.

I see people very, very passionate about what’s happening in Washington, what you and Clint were talking about in terms of the dissatisfaction and consternation, if you will, about the Biden administration and Democratic control of Congress.

So I see that big red wave, a red tsunami happening in Tennessee as well. I see people are largely very happy with the state of Tennessee and where we are as a state. Certainly from a fiscal situation, people are passionate about certain issues at the state level.

You are right. But what’s driving the mood and driving the passions of voters has a lot to do with what’s on the ballot in any given area of the state.

Leahy: Are you seeing, when you go out of the state and you talk to people, a bunch of newcomers engaged politically, like people from California or Texas?

It’s mostly California, Illinois, New York, and Connecticut. Are you seeing a lot of folks that are refugees from those blue states, and what do they say when you talk to them?

Johnson: Yes, we are. And there have been a lot of conversations in recent years about, oh, gosh, all these people moving here from California, are they going to turn us purple or start to threaten our very conservative red status as a state?

And actually, I see it as the opposite. I see that these people have left California or New York and they’re battle-hardened. Someone said that they may have PTSD because they’ve been fighting for conservative values in some of these states, and they’ve been beaten so many times, year after year after year.

And so they’re coming to Tennessee because we are one of the, I would argue, the most conservative states in the nation, if not the. One of the most conservative.

Leahy: I would say, yes.

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 “Jack Johnson” by Jack Johnson.

Tennessee State Senator Jack Johnson on the Structure and Importance of Your Local School Board

Tennessee State Senator Jack Johnson on the Structure and Importance of Your Local School Board


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 structure of state education policy, local school boards, and the importance of their elections.

Leahy: On our newsmaker line we welcome back State Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson. Jack, thanks for your patience. If you would indulge me. Jack, I just have to read this breaking story.

I’m not asking you to comment on this breaking story. We’ll get back to education in just a minute. I just have to read this because it’s funny. (Laughs) Are you ready for this Jack?

Johnson: I’m ready.

Leahy: This statement by Donald J. Trump just came out, like a minute ago. I’ll just read it. You don’t have to comment on it, but I find it very amusing. Just like in the 2020 presidential elections, it was announced overnight in New York City that vast, irregularities and mistakes were made in that Eric Adams, despite an almost insurmountable lead, may not win the race.

The fact is, based on what has happened, nobody will ever know who really won. The presidential race was a scam and a hoax, with numbers and results being found that are massive, shocking, and determinative.

Watch the mess you’re about to see in New York City. It will go on forever. They should close the books and do it all over again the old-fashioned way when we had results that were accurate and meaningful. Jack, thanks for letting me get that statement out. I’m not going to ask you for a comment. (Laughter) Isn’t that amusing?

Johnson: I would like to make one statement. And that’s why in Tennessee we don’t have universal mail-in voting. But we have a very strict system. You can vote absentee, but you must request the ballot with the signature.

That signature is verified, and you must do it and have a reason for voting absentee. And I believe that the root of many of the problems in last November’s elections, and I do think it’s very ironic, I believe, is a word you used earlier in the program that New York (Laughter) and what is going on is because of their massive mail-out voting.

It’s problematic. We’re not going to do that in Tennessee I can assure you.

Leahy: All I have to say to that Jack is, Amen brother. And thank goodness for the Tennessee General Assembly and for Secretary of State Tre Hargett, because we don’t have those kinds of problems here in Tennessee.

So a good point. Thanks for that comment. It’s just so funny.  I just had to bring it up. (Chuckles) Now, Jack, we’re talking a little bit about education and it seems to me that we have at 145 separate school districts in the state, and they all have boards of education and people run for it.

And here’s what I’ve noticed. I liked to get your comment on this, and these are probably groups that you deal with, but I have a perspective that maybe they’re not doing such a hot job. So what happens is people will run for the board.

They’ll have an agenda that’s more traditional education. They get elected to the board, and then they go off to training with the group called the Tennessee School Boards Association.

And somehow they get the impression from that training, this is how I see it, that their job is not to run the schools, but to do whatever the school Superintendent does. I think that’s wrong. Am I off on that, or is there something there to it?

Johnson: No, you’re exactly right in terms of the way it should operate. The way that the system is designed. And it is it’s a little bit complex. But I think on paper, it’s a good system, which is that you have the state, you have the General Assembly, people that are elected like myself, to serve in the General Assembly.

We set broad education policy for the state in terms of standards and the way schools should operate, so that we have a degree of consistency across the state. And then we have created political subdivisions, that is what they’re legally referred to as, in the form of a school board school.

We call them local education agencies, LEAs, or local education authorities. Sometimes people say that. So we create these LEAs that are run by an elected school board. And it’s not a perfect analogy, but I think it’s the best we have, which is to think of that school board as a board of directors.

That’s what they are. And just like with a company, a board of directors hires a CEO to run the day-to-day operations. And so you have locally elected school boards that set the local policy that makes those decisions about the curriculum and about things that are important to the community that might be different.

As I said earlier before the break, from community to community. That’s why we don’t want consistency across the state. The elected boards are the ones that are accountable to the electorate.

They’re duly constitutionally elected. They should set the local policy and then that policy should be enacted by the director of schools or the school Superintendent. Whatever you choose to call them.

And so I agree with you wholeheartedly. And I do see, and we’ve certainly had a testimony, and we’ve had folks that have come in and talked about that its kind of the inverse that the director comes in and tells the board what needs to be done from a policy standpoint.

And that’s fine for them to make recommendations. But ultimately, that policy should be set by the elected school board.

Leahy: Yeah, I agree with that. And it seems to me, however, that the way this institution is set up, it is very difficult for a school board member to come in that wants to reverse course from these various elements of critical race series that are now creeping into the school systems and other things that they don’t like.

Very difficult for one member of a 12 member board or two or three to change course and then actually to get the local school district director to follow their direction. Instead, it seems like the school superintendents are unaccountable and tell the school board what to do, which is exactly the opposite.

I think that makes people very discouraged. Last question for you, what do you think we do in the future on this?

Johnson: I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy, and I’m encouraged that there is more engagement from parents and communities relative to the school board. We have school board elections next year, and I think that there’s going to be a great high level of engagement. And that’s the answer to the problem that you just outlined.

Leahy: Let’s hope it happens that way.

Listen to the full 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.
Photo “Jack Johnson” by Jack Johnson.