Leahy: We are delighted to welcome to our newsmaker line state Senator Mark Pody. Good morning, Senator Pody.
Pody: Yes! Good morning.
Leahy: We’re delighted to have you here. Senator Pody, just for our listeners, tell us the area of your current district. You represent parts of Davidson County, right?
Pody: I absolutely do. I’ve got all of Wilson County and I am getting about 70,000 people in Davidson County. I have, for example, all of like Percy Priest Lake area as well as the airport. That is kind of the area that I represent.
Leahy: Well, that’s something. Tell us a little bit about your career. We’ve known each other for a long, long time. You were in the state House and then were elected to the state Senate. When were you first elected to the state legislature?
Pody: I came in with Governor Haslam. In 2010, there was kind of a wave that came in and I was in that wave as well. And so I’ve served underneath all of Governor Haslam and Governor Lee. And that’s as long as I’ve been in here.
Leahy: Now I have to tell you, Senator Pody, and I’m going to use a phrase that has been used to describe your level of energy before, and you’ll smile when I tell you this phrase, but I’ve heard many people say that State Senator Mark Pody has so much energy he makes coffee nervous. You remember that one, right?
Pody:(Chuckles) Yes. I tell you what, I love serving the people. I love lifting up my Lord Jesus Christ. And anything I can do, I just give him the credit and he’s given me the energy to go out and do this.
Leahy: What’s the difference between being in the state House of Representatives and the state Senate?
Pody: I will tell you, first of all, the House is a lot more fun if you like fireworks and things like that. In the Senate, it is a lot more collegial. We might have our disagreements, but it’s not, for example, on the floor, it doesn’t get into committees nearly as much. It has things worked out a lot more privately.
Leahy: That’s what I’ve seen as well. And of course, I think you really enjoyed sort of mixing it up in the state House.
Pody: I did. I can be very vocal. I know who I am, and I’m very comfortable with the views that I have. I’ve been told that I’m extremely conservative as well as outspoken. I know my views. I don’t change them often.
And I just believe in the Constitution. I believe in limited government and limited taxes. And now that I’m in Davidson County, I want to bring those views into Davidson County as well.
Leahy: Crom Carmichael has a question for you.
Carmichael: Senator, you said that the two chambers are different and that the House is more fun. It almost sounds like you also feel like in the House, you can actually get more important legislation passed and then unfortunately, it dies in some very important legislation in your mind, in the Senate.
And I’m curious, I think the same thing happens in Washington D.C. Is it because it’s a smaller body? Is it because when you win, you win for a longer term? Why do you think that the state Senate in particular is more of a check on things like true education reform?
My sense of it is true education reform is more likely to pass in the House, especially for minority kids, than in the Senate. So if I’m wrong about that particular issue, please correct me, but if I’m not, please respond.
Pody: Sure. I will tell you, I was very interested in listening to Mr. Weber on the show earlier today talking with Michael, and he nailed it when he said that the House will probably be bringing more opportunities for education where the Senate would not.
And I’m actually on the Senate Education Committee, so we probably will be just staying with the third-grade retention law. The way it is, the House kind of debates out what they might be doing to change a little bit. I will tell you though, at the crux of the matter would be this.
The representatives are up every single two years, so they’re always having to be out with their constituents, listening and being very responsive to what their constituents need and want. In the Senate, we’re up only every four years so it is not top of mind in a lot of people’s thought processes.
Leahy: Let me follow up with that, Senator Pody. So you probably saw last week that Speaker of the House Cam Sexton said that he’s going to put out a bill to tell the federal government to keep all of their $1.8 billion of K12 public school money because with that money come strings. It got a fairly favorable reception in the House and from what I can tell in the Senate. Do you have any thoughts on that idea from Speaker Sexton?
Pody: Absolutely. In fact, I just was talking with a group about what it would look like if we just didn’t take any federal money anywhere. And I got actually a 500-page budget back, and I’m reviewing that now. But when we look at the number of strings that we have to put up with the federal government, it costs us a lot of money.
And Tennessee right now gets about 38 percent of its budget from the federal government. We’re one of the highest in the nation on the percentage that we get from the federal government. We did something with TennCare where we told Tenn Care if you would just give us the money and let us provide the healthcare that we need to in Tennessee, and if there are savings, let us share in that savings.
And we got literally a lot of money. And I think the governor addressed that in the state of the state where that program just went in and TennCare was able to use the money from the federal government, but we saved a lot of it without their strings, and we’re able to use some of that savings back in Tennessee.
I think we could do the same thing with education. If they want to give us that money, take the strings off. And if we can have better outcomes, let us have that money without your strings, and we’ll do a better job than what the federal government can do with their laws, rules, and strings.
Carmichael: How many states, Senator, do you think have asked the federal government for waivers like that? I think, for lack of a better term, would you refer to those as block grants?
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
Leahy: We are joined in-studio by the official guest host of The Tennessee Star Report, Aaron Gulbransen, and a new friend, Mr. William Slater, who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Tennessee House of Representatives in the 35th district. Good morning, Mr. Slater.
Slater: Good morning, Michael. Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Leahy: First, tell us where is the 35th district? What are the boundaries of that district?
Slater: Yes, Yeah, so the 35th district is part of Sumner County. Starts in Hendersonville, runs all the way up through Bethpage and includes all of Gallatin, and then continues on out to Trousdale County.
Leahy: Who currently represents that district?
Slater: Right now it’s Terri Lynn Weaver and it’s the 40th district. Her district has shifted east, and so now it’s the 35th district. It’s a new district. An open seat.
Leahy: Open seat. Now, who are you, and why are you running for the Tennessee House of Representatives?
Slater: I’m William Slater, and I am running because I’m passionate about education, business, and public safety. Lived in Sumner County since 1996, my wife and I met and married in Florida and moved there with our four kids 26 years ago. Love Sumner County, love Tennessee, and just excited to represent the folks of Sumner and Trousdale County.
Leahy: What is your professional background?
Slater: Education and business. I’ve been a professional educator since getting out of college in 1985.
Leahy: Where did you go to college?
Slater: I went up to a small private Christian college up just outside of Chicago.
Leahy: What’s the name of it?
Slater: Hyles-Anderson College. And then went on to the University of South Florida and then finished up here at Nashville School of Law.
Leahy: Nashville School of Law. Do you have a JD from the national law?
Slater: I do, yes. Never intended to practice law, but love education, passionate about it and wanted to teach school law, and that’s what I do. I’m at Welch College, which is a conservative Christian college in Sumner County, and I teach graduate students there.
Leahy: What courses do you teach?
Slater: I teach school law, teach special education law, and then I teach faith and ethics in education.
Leahy: Tell us about Welch College.
Slater: Welch was founded in 1942, is the Free Will Baptist Bible College here in Nashville, [originally] down on the west end in Richland Avenue area, and moved out to Summer County in 2017. And that’s when I came on board. Been there five years.
Leahy: And how many students are there at Welch College?
Slater: About 450 students, and that includes both on-campus students, which we’re the only residential campus in Sumner County. Of course, we have commuting students and then our graduate students as well.
Leahy: Is it accredited?
Leahy: Accredited college.
Slater: That’s correct.
Leahy: And are you a full professor there?
Slater: I’m a dean. One of the deans there. I’m the dean of adult and online studies. And then, as I mentioned, I teach in our graduate program. I teach in the Master of Arts in Teaching program.
Leahy: Now, tell us a little bit about your teaching background.
Slater: So I started out teaching in Christian schools and my favorite thing to teach in my teaching background is English and history. So that’s what I was trained for, and taught a lot of history, American government. And then of course, when I got to Tennessee, Tennessee history, world history, those kinds of things.
Leahy: When we come back, we’ll have more with William Slater, who’s running for the Republican nomination in the 35th district of the Tennessee House of Representatives. This is The Tennessee Star Report. I’m Michael Patrick Leahy.
Leahy: In studio with us, our friend, former Tennessee Speaker of the House, Beth Harwell. Beth, so you’ve had quite a career after eight years of speaker.
You ran for governor, didn’t win the primary. You haven’t been goofing off ever since. (Harwell chuckles) What have you been doing?
Harwell: Well, I’ve been doing a few things. I do a little bit of teaching at Middle Tennessee State University. It’s very important to me that the next generation learn about the government and its history and are proud of it.
Leahy: So I didn’t know you were teaching at MTSU.
Harwell: Well, I don’t teach full time. I just go on and do lectures and about – just a visiting professor.
Leahy: Where do you teach? What do you teach?
Harwell: It’s usually in the honors program in the political science department.
Leahy: And so are these, like, small classes, big classes?
Harwell: We did a democracy project that I participated in. They’re trying as a school to engage young people. And we desperately need young people to be engaged.
But we need to have them, well-informed young people, before they engage. That’s the key there.
Leahy: Not propagandized little community activists.
Harwell: Exactly right. And then I also serve in the Tennessee Valley Authority Board, a number of other boards here in Nashville – Montgomery Bell Academy and KIPP Academy.
Leahy: Montgomery Bell Academy and KIPP. Oh boy. The Metro National Public School Board hates them because they’re a charter school.
Harwell: Well, they’re doing an excellent job. I know they helped a lot of kids through the pandemic. They’ve been involved in these young people’s life. And that’s just been a sharp contrast in which I’m very proud of them for what they’re doing.
Leahy: Do you like serving on the Tennessee Valley Authority Board?
Harwell: You know, it’s a challenge because it’s outside of my true area of expertise.
Leahy: You’re not an expert necessarily on energy.
Harwell: I’m not a physicist or specialist but I’m learning a lot. And I tell you, Tennessee Valley Authority does a lot of great things for the Appalachian area.
I’m learning more about them every day. But the one thing I appreciate is they do keep our rates relatively low. We can always be lower.
But they are low compared to other places. But more importantly, you saw what happened in Texas. TVA has a diversified portfolio that I really think serves the public well.
Leahy: Well, it’s interesting because we had on this program yesterday, State Representative Chris Todd. You probably know Chris from Jackson. Great guy.
Chris told us that here the group of 15 states from the South, their state legislatures convened. He was part of that group.
And he said they got a presentation from TVA and told them how they had set up redundancy and resilience so they didn’t have the kind of problem Texas did.
Harwell: Right. And that’s good management. We can be very proud of that.
Leahy: Well, that’s good. That’s good. So is it more relaxing not to be the speaker of the House? Are you goofing off more? Are you going out to dinner more?
Harwell: Of course I’m definitely doing my walking and doing a little more reading other than political things.
Leahy: What are you reading?
Harwell: You know what? I have a whole spectrum of books I read. I’m reading right now a book called Someone’s Daughter that someone let me borrow. And it’s actually good. So I like a diversity of books.
Leahy: I recommend a book for you. I just discovered this writer, Conrad Richter. R-I-C-H-T-E-R. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for the third part of a trilogy.
And the third part of the trilogy was called – a book called – The Town. The first part was The Trees. The second part was The Fields.
It was a story. Wait for it … of a 15-year-old girl and her family who in 1795 left a little town in Eastern Pennsylvania and walked to Ohio. And it’s about their life from 1795 to 1860.
Harwell: That sounds fascinating.
Leahy: It’s really great. And it’s part of a trilogy called The Awakening Land. I just discovered this. It’s a great book, and I really enjoyed it. Beth, for the big question. The big question. What’s in your future?
Harwell: Well, Michael Patrick, first, I want to thank you for letting me be on here. It was nice and reminisce with you a little bit. (Leahy laughs) We go way back.
Leahy: We do go way back. And it’s interesting because we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we are always were friendly.
Harwell: Absolutely. Always able to talk and discuss things.
Leahy: This is the way to do it.
Harwell: It is the way to do it. I think it’s critical as we go forward that we can discuss issues that have been important. As far as my future, I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to serve the public and hope that I’ve done that well, and I don’t know what the future holds.
I don’t think anyone does. We’re gonna have to wait and see what happens. But I’ll certainly let you be one of the first to know.
Leahy: So if you were to do something back in your old line of work, would you make a statement first here on this program if you were to do that?
Harwell: If that would please you. (Chuckles)
Leahy: It would! If you want to do something, that would be very interesting. Overall, Beth, on a scale of one to 10, one being not worried at all and 10 being extremely, existentially worried, how worried are you about the future of our country?
Harwell: I’m probably at an eight or nine. And I’ll tell you why that I’m not the full 10. I believe in America. And I think our elected officials have left us.
American people are as good and have as strong of values and beliefs that they’ve ever had. It’s that we’ve allowed our elected officials to leave us and we need to hold them accountable. I’m amazed at the people that will say to an elected official, oh I’d love to have my picture taken with you.
You know what? That elected official ought to be saying that to the citizen. I’d love to have my picture taken with you, because we’ve allowed them to forget that they’re our servants.
In Washington, D.C., they’re just up there not even obeying our Constitution. And we’re letting them get away with it. And it makes my heart bleed. It really does. This is a great nation. If we let it go, there’s no other place in the world we can go. This is it.
Leahy: So eight or nine. I have to kind of agree with you in terms of where we are as a nation right now. Do you think we can make it as a country with the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, who appears to be engaged in illegal – and this is my word, not yours – illegal actions by not enforcing our immigration and weak on foreign policy?
Freedom is now something that the people of Cuba want.
And the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue appears to be doing very little to support those efforts. He’s letting China dominate the South China Sea.
He’s not building up the Navy. You look around and you say this guy is intending to destroy our Constitutional Republic.
Harwell: It makes you think he doesn’t love our country because he’s deliberately taking us down a path that I don’t know that we can turn around and get back off of unless we change things and change things quickly.
Leahy: Yeah, it does seem to be deliberate, doesn’t it?
Harwell: It does.
Leahy: That is very troublesome. Beth Harwell, former speaker, Tennessee House of Representatives, thanks so much for joining.
Harwell: Thank you. My pleasure.
Leahy: It’s been great to have you in here and come back again if you would please.
Leahy: We are joined in studio by our good friend Gary Humble, the group Tennessee Stands a grassroots organization. He is a thorn in the side (Humble chuckles) of the Republican establishment and all of the Democrat folks up on Capitol Hill. Gary, good morning.
Humble: Good morning to you. I’ll take that intro all day long.
Leahy: Well, Tennessee General Assembly winding down another three or four weeks, right?
Humble: Yeah, I would say three or four at the most. They’re working pretty hard. Everything is pretty much on final calendar now. Some sub-committees in the House are closed, so they’re working pretty hard at getting to the place where they can adjourn.
Leahy: Now, have they lifted all of the Coronavirus regulations? Are regular people able to go into the capital now?
Humble: Yeah, they are pretty much, but it’s just like everywhere else. It’s sort of the fine line between there’s a rule, but we’re not really sure if there’s a rule. And once you get past a certain point to the elevators, we’re not really going to enforce the rule. And then as you walk around, there’s a few of our truly, I would say conservative, freedom-loving legislators that you’ll never see with a mask or anything like that on. And it’s literally like walking into the grocery store and sort of seeing who it.
Leahy: Some are, some are not.
Humble: Same environment.
Leahy: But is there a rule now? Do you have to wear masks there?
Humble: The rule is, well, again, like everywhere else, the rule is to wear a mask, but it’s rarely enforced.
Leahy: Okay. Well, so now you go up there, in essence, acting as a grassroots lobbyist, right? For various bills.
Humble: Functionally sort of.
Leahy: Functionally. You’re not registered?
Humble: I have not registered as a lobbyist, though I could. But I choose not to participate.
Leahy: You are an advocate.
Humble: I’m an advocate. I’m a citizen of Tennessee. That’s a better word to describe it.
Leahy: You are an advocate of the issues. So we hear this mantra at all, get involved. Get involved. Get involved? Well, your group is getting involved. When you go to Capitol Hill is it just you or is it you and a couple of other folks from Tennessee Stands? How does that happen?
Humble: It’s usually me and a couple of folks. We have someone that comes up from Knoxville pretty regularly. And then a couple of volunteers that actually have been lobbying some of these, especially medical freedom issues that we’ve been addressing right now for the last couple of years. So we do have some volunteers up there that are lobbying at least every Tuesday and Wednesday, which is how much the meet of the week.
Leahy: So set the stage for me. You enter the security. Do you show your ID when you get in?
Humble: No, I don’t have to show it.
Leahy: As you enter, do you have your mask on?
Humble: No. So far, that’s worked.
Leahy: So they don’t give you a hard time.
Humble: Let me tell you, the Capitol Police, there are phenomenal people. In fact, when we had our rally there and we had about 350 folks or so show up, I worked with them the week prior, letting them know that was going to happen. And they’ve bent over backward upping their staffing so that they can process as many people as they could let into the building. They are quite incredible to work with. Good men and women.
Leahy: Now, do the legislators up there recognize you yet? And when you’re walking through the halls, do they see you and then head recover?
Humble: I actually have gotten where the eyes meet.
Leahy: Eyes meet and somebody disappears?
Humble: And there’s the look away.
Leahy: It’s Humble with the Tennessee Stands. I’m getting out of here. Any of that?
Humble: Please, God, let him not recognize that I saw him. (Laughs)
Leahy: Okay, so you got a little that going on. But you’re nice, right?
Humble: Yeah. Absolutely.
Leahy: You are polite. You don’t harangue them or do you?
Humble: I got a good story for you.
Leahy: Storytime. Let’s hear this story.
Humble: Because you can tell there’s a conversation happening about me there and whatever. So I’m having a meeting and I’ll just call him out. He’s a great guy. Chairman Vaughan from Collierville. We were having a meeting about a bill. Fantastic guy. Lovely conversation. And I think it seemed to me he had a set of expectations.
Leahy: Which House is this?
Humble: House of Representatives.
Leahy: 99 members.
Humble: He’s a rep out of Collierville on Memphis area and a great guy. We’re having a conversation. And anyway, we get done. He said, You know what, man? I just got to tell you, this is not what I expected. This is a really great conversation. He said, you know what? You’re a lot smarter than I thought you’d be.
Leahy: Subtext. I expected a crazy loon, and I got a guy who could make an argument and make sense.
Humble: That’s right.
Leahy: Well, but this is sort of a lesson for everybody out there in our listeners. What conservatives and constitutionalists and grassroots activists in our listening audience and around the country have to deal with is despair. And that’s a little bit what the left is trying to do. They’re trying to shock and awe us into submission, and it ain’t going to happen. But any logical person has got to say, I have to have a path out. I have to have somebody who’s going to listen to me. And when you see people saying, well, I’ll give you an example.
The Georgia runoff elections, right? Two Democrats won. They’re awful. They’re left-wingers. But what happened is the Georgia Conservatives were so dispirited and angry at the bad decisions by the governor, the Republican governor, and the Republican Secretary of State they said, yeah, I’m just not gonna play this game. It had a bad consequence in Georgia. And for our conservative populist friends out there, it would have a bad consequence here if you’re not engaged, but you cannot rail at the moon.
Leahy: You can’t come in and have them say, oh, there’s that lunatic. Oh, there’s that intelligent person who actually makes an argument. All right. I’ll talk to him or her.
Humble: And there’s sort of a balance there. I believe there’s a line between making an intelligent argument, which certainly you need to make, but also being heard. Unfortunately, what you’ll find and it’s not just the Tennessee General Assembly, it’s in any legislature in any political arena is that a lot of these men and women respond to pressure.
Leahy: Well, they all do. (Humble chuckles) This is why, actually, you see the left, because all of the activists on the left appear to have jobs where they’re paid for by these nonprofits funded by left-wing billionaires. On our side, it’s basically volunteer stuff. So you have to do it in between making a living. So they’re able to be more persistent and to get in the face of state legislators, typically more vociferously than our side in here in Tennessee.
Humble: I had Steve Deace mention something about that one time and he was like you know why it seems like sometimes the left is always added, and they’re always winning it’s because it’s their religion.
Leahy: Not only is it their religion but because of the way the left finances this with the guilty, autocratic, let’s destroy American billionaire class, which is growing, by the way, those guys fund the activities. It’s a profession now. A community activist is a profession on the left, and it’s a well-paying profession. That’s the difference right there.
Humble: We have some activists that are working in Memphis and they are seeing some of the same things. She’s actually been able to scope out who these people are. And she was telling you, no, Gary, what I found is they’re actually paid quite well.
Leahy: They are. That’s the secret about, quote, community activists on the left. It’s a profession. now, if you have no skills, but like to be a loudmouth talker, it’s perfect. (Laughter) If you have no skills but like to be a loudmouth talker and you can communicate the best career path for somebody on the left is to become a community activist.
Humble: No question.
Leahy: Because there’s so much money out there from the left-wing billionaires who hate America.
Humble: No question.
Leahy: That’s very interesting. I want to ask you this. As you go up there and you talk to members of the Tennessee General Assembly, is there a difference between talking to a member of the House of Representatives in which there are 99 members? And it’s generally considered a little bit more raucous because they are all in there for two-year terms. And then the more stayed state Senate, which has only 33 members and they’re in there for four-year terms. What’s the difference in terms of communicating with a state Senator versus a member of the state House?
Humble: Actually, that’s a great question. I don’t know a person that can have experienced much of a difference. I will say on the Senate side, they actually can be a little bit more rushed and busy and moving papers because, in the House, each representative is limited to running 15 bills. The Senate is unlimited. I want to say, Senator Bowling, I can’t remember who I was talking to but they had, like, over 70 bills.
Leahy: Senator Janice Bowling. Friend of this program.
Humble: 70 bills that have just been filed by her in the Senate because there’s no limit there. So, actually, on the Senate side, there is a little bit more movement. A little bit more business going on because with everything they have to get through.
Leahy: We are joined in studio now by our good friend And State Representative Jerry Sexton from Bean Station. Good morning Jerry.
Sexton: Good morning, Michael. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Leahy: Well, we’re delighted to have you in here. We’ve been friends for a long time. We’ve been allies on a number of very important political issues.
Sexton: Yes we have.
Leahy: You were a leader in the opposition to the gas tax in 2017. But it’s 2021 now and we have other battles to fight. Tell us a little bit about Bean Station. It’s up in the Tri-Cities area, isn’t it?
Sexton: Yes. It’s about an hour east of Knoxville. It’s between the Tri-Cities and Knoxville. Bean Station is a very historical place. There was a lot that went on there. And the name Bean came from Bean Fort. William Bean was the first White settler in the state of Tennessee. Actually, his son had the first White baby that was born in the state of Tennessee.
So there’s a lot of history. We had a spa resort up there called Tate Springs Spa and the Vanderbilts and Fords would frequent. And it was a very high ritzy place. And so as history goes, you know roads change and it got left behind. But we’re still there. It’s beautiful place. The mountains. The Lakes.
Leahy: Very very beautiful up in that part of Tennessee. Of course, I’m biased but Tennessee is the most beautiful and greatest state in the country.
Leahy: And by the way, we still have no state income tax, and thank you, Representative Jerry Sexton, for that. And by the way, this is going to be the Sexton hour and a half here on The Tennessee Star Report because you are in the studio between now and 8:00 o’clock. We’re going to take a break from 7:15 to 7:29 when the Speaker of the House Cam Sexton will be our guest. Now the big question for you is, are the two of you blood brothers?
Sexton: Well since he’s the Speaker of the House now, I claim closer kin than before. And I joked with him and sometimes we get one another’s mail. So I told him that I would probably be keeping some of his mail going through it before I return it to him. But he’s doing a good job.
Leahy: He’s done a fantastic job. I mean just very steady in his leadership.
Sexton: Very steady.
Leahy: And that’s very key. Now, you know I am an amateur genealogist.
Leahy: And so what I’m going to do is a little research and I’m going to see if there’s any common ancestry back there between State Representative Jerry Sexton and Speaker of the House Cam Sexton. I’m guessing somewhere back in the generations there’s a common ancestor. But you guys haven’t been able to find it yet?
Sexton: We have talked about doing that but neither of us has taken on the project.
Leahy: I will take on that project as a hobby and I will keep both of you posted on it.
Leahy: Now the Tennessee General Assembly. You were first elected in 2014?
Leahy: In 2014 on a very constitutional conservative agenda.
Leahy: Fiscally conservative.
Leahy: That’s you.
Leahy: And you come from a small business background.
Sexton: That’s correct. It was actually in 1988 that I struck it out on my own. I was about 24 years old believe it or not. I’d always wanted to have my own business so I decided in 1988 that it was time for me to do that. So my wife and I started our business with just she and I and we starved to death for about 5-10 years.
Leahy: I can relate. (Laughs) every small business person knows this kind of story.
Sexton: Well, you’ve got to have the desire and you’ve got to have that intestinal fortitude to push forward and that’s what we did. And my wife is very supportive and we’ve always worked together and been on the same page. And so we just struggled for a long time. And in my business, as you know, is most of that’s gone overseas.
Leahy: Furniture manufacturing. All China! All made in China. Not exactly the quality that we’ve seen in America.
Sexton: And it’s the customization of the product is gone. So we fight we had to find little niche markets. I kept saying, you know in five years I’ll be out of business. But we kept finding markets that needed our help and we were able to actually grow during all this time. And now we’re actually seeing some resurgence of companies wanting American made. And so we’ve been blessed.
Leahy: So how many employees you have to have? Do you have a factory? How do you make this?
Sexton: I do. I have a couple of factories and warehouses?
Leahy: You have a couple of factories?
Sexton: I do. I have one in Greentree County and one in Claiborne County which both are in my district.
Leahy: And so what do you make there? And what’s the production process?
Sexton: Well we have in you know, we have somewhere around 250 employees production processes. We do everything. We cut the wood. We cut the fabric. We get everything that we can from the United States some products can only raw materials we can only get out of China but we’re working toward being 100 percent American made. And we’re very proud of that.
We find that our quality and the quality of our product and being able to change quickly is becoming more important for America. Americans are proud of the work that they do with their hands. College is important and we advocate that but we also have a lot of people that want to work with their hands. They want to create things.
Leahy: The American can do it! Yankee ingenuity.
Sexton: Yes, and we’ve taken the value away from working creating things and we’ve made people feel bad about not going to college. And Bill Lee and one of the things that he ran when he was running for governor that I supported was vocational training. It makes you feel good to build something and to say I did that.
Leahy: Tell us some of your bigger selling products. You don’t sell retail I understand. you sell to your wholesaler manufacture. You sell to retail outlets. Tell us about some of your products and where people can buy them.
Sexton: Well Michael as I said, we had to find those niche markets. And so one thing that we did was set out to see where there was a lack. We actually got into the lift chair business. We build those motorized chairs that recline and they lift you. Actually, I had surgery not too long ago and I got one in my home and found it to be very nice to power lift you up and to stand you up if you’ve got an operation or something.
Leahy: No kidding.
Sexton: Yes. And so the college market. We do a lot in the college market for college dorms. Hospitality. We do a lot in the hospitality market. And we have just got into about two and a half three years ago RVs. And we’re finding that to just be growing like crazy. And so all of these markets that we’re into our markets that we’re not serviced that well because they don’t have a lot of demand. But actually, the demand over the last 15 years has really grown. And so we’ve really been able to grow with that.
Leahy: In the college market, is it college classrooms or in dorms?
Sexton: The dorms.
Leahy: Do you make beds? What do you make?
Sexton: Upholstered furniture. Upholstery and we do some beds but it’s just mainly the application of a poster bed that have you know, the upholstered backing. We do that but it’s mainly the sofas, chairs, loveseat, and recliners.
Leahy: How do you manage this business and serve in the state legislature at the same time?
Sexton: Well, the one word that I love to use about anything that I do is sacrifice. So, yes, you do sacrifice. You sacrifice your time. You sacrifice your ability to run your business like you would like to. But I’m blessed with a son that’s gotten into the business and he’s doing a great job. And I’ve just got some great people that work for me.
Leahy: And you own a hundred percent of this company?
Sexton: I do. Yes.
Leahy: Very impressive. By the way for our listeners. Let me tell you something about State Representative Jerry Sexton. He runs on Lombardi time. You know what I mean when I say Lombardi time? Vince Lombardi the famous Green Bay Packers coach. If you came to a meeting 10 minutes before you were late. So he was here very early and on time. Very punctual. I’ll bet that’s a habit of yours.
Sexton: Well, I try to make it a habit. Now if my wife goes with me then I’m normally late. (Leahy laughs) So for 25 years, I pastored a church and I decided if I was going to be on time I’d just let her drive her own car.
Leahy: Are you still pastoring?
Sexton: I pastor kind of in the interim. I can’t do both. I can’t do all three and the business and the state representative. But feel like God led me into this and so that’s where I am. But yes, I still pastor on an interim basis.
Leahy: A very busy guy.
Leahy: By the way, Carol Swain is our all-star panelist who is usually in here on Thursdays. She’s off today. She’ll be back on air with us next Thursday. Jerry, so tell us about the special session and even start it this way. So you’ll leave the program here at eight o’clock. Just walk us through what your day is like and then when you get to the floor and when the session happens and then what issues will be addressed at that time.
Sexton: Well, the special session is not as structured as one would think because we are trying to get these bills. They have to be read so many times they’ve got to go to committee and then they have to come to the House floor. So what I will do when I leave here is at nine o’clock we will have a House session. That’s when all the representatives come on the House floor.
Leahy: Oh, so you will be in session at nine o’clock today?
Sexton: At nine o’clock. Yes. Yesterday we in the committee’s, we vetted these bills and there’s like four. And so we talk about them and if there are any amendments which there’s really not amendments on these particular bills because mostly they were worked out with the leadership of our party and with the governor. So what we’re trying to do is once these go through the committees and then they have to go through calendar rules. Then they have to go through finance ways and means committee and then they’ll come to the House.
Leahy: And you’re on a very important subcommittee there chaired by Ryan Williams the finance ways and means appropriation subcommittee?
Sexton: That is correct.
Leahy: Perhaps the most important subcommittee in the Tennessee General Assembly. This is me talking now, you but it’s all about money and how that money is spent. Do I have that right?
Sexton: You do have that right as well as the full finance ways and means committee.
Leahy: Chaired by Patsy Hazelwood from Signal Mountain.
Sexton: Yes. And Patsy and I came in at the same time 2014 so we know one another well. She’d be good to have in the studio.
Leahy: I’m just curious about this part. Everybody has a desk there right now. It’s on the floor.
Leahy: Who sits next to you?
Sexton: Well, I have Justin Lafferty which is out of Knoxville.
Leahy: That’s interesting. Justin to your right. He was on the show a couple of days ago.
Sexton: Yes. I’ve got Chris Hurt to my left, which is I think down in the Memphis area.
Leahy: Is he Democrat or Republican?
Sexton: He’s a republican. And then I have to my to the back of me I’ve got Rick Eldridge and Mark Hall.
Leahy: Mark Hall.
Sexton: Dave Wright is in front of me.
Leahy: So do you guys come in and say hey everybody let’s get going! What happens?
Sexton: It’s funny because you do get in a relationship with those that you sit around. It’s just kind of common knowledge that when you’re around people you learn more about them and develop respect. John Mark Windle is a long-time Democrat but he’s more conservative. He sits right in that area.
Leahy: Are you friendly with John?
Sexton: Oh, absolutely.
Leahy: We’ve reported about him. I don’t know why he’s still a Democrat because he thinks and he has good common sense and he’s a good guy.
Sexton: John Mark Windle is like John De Berry. He’s the old Democrat that hadn’t changed. And we get along very well and you know we get along with everyone. We just differ on policy.
Leahy: So the big policy issue. What’s the number one law you’ll be looking at in the special session?
Sexton: Money. Coming down to money. (Leahy laughs)
Leahy: It all comes down to money.
Sexton: It does.
Leahy: You know whenever anybody tells you You know, it’s not about the money. No, it’s about the money.
Sexton: It is. I was back up at my district this past summer and speaking to a group and this lady comes up to me and she says, my main concern is funding for our schools. We just don’t have enough funding for our schools. I said, well, I’d like to address that when I speak to you. And I’m going to ask you a question when I get through talking to see whether or not you still had that same opinion. And so when I gave the rundown of how much money is spent in education from the state of Tennessee, which is all of one-third of every tax dollar we take in. We spend a third of all the budget on education.
Leahy: Did you ask her a question? Is that enough? What did she say?
Sexton: I did. I did, and she was silent.
Leahy: Hey somebody who’s not going to be silent right now a frequent listener who is a friend of yours and ours. State Representative Bruce Griffey has been driving in listening to the program. He wanted to call in. You okay if we bring him on?
Leahy: Alright State Representative Bruce Griffey just joined the party. Welcome to the Tennessee Star Report Bruce.
Griffey: Good morning Michael Patrick. Good morning Jerry. How are you?
Sexton: I’m doing great. It’s good to hear from you, Bruce.
Griffey: Thank you guys for letting me call in. Michael Patrick, I was listening and I love your show. You are a true patriot just like Representative Jerry Sexton is and I can’t thank you guys both enough for what y’all do for average Tennesseans out there. And I wanted to bring an issue up that I say Jerry probably supports and it’s a way to maybe inject $270 million into Tennessee teacher pay annually.
And it wouldn’t raise taxes on one U.S. or Tennessee taxpayer. And that would be to impose a tax on foreign money transfers that leaves Tennessee and leaves United States in U.S. territories. This is something we could do. $15 billion of these cash transactions left Tennessee last year. And if we imposed a fee on them equal to say the sales tax and it only applies to people that don’t have a social security number or a taxpayer identification number we could generate $270 million for teacher pay. I am looking for as much support as I can.
Leahy: Hold on just a second State Representative Sexton. Are you familiar with this bill? We have one minute left. And what’s your reaction?
Sexton: I am familiar with it. I got to speak with Representative Griffey about that yesterday. So I’m going to be looking into that. It sounds like it’s a good bill and a good way to raise money. And so he and I are going to be discussing that further and looking at that as we get further in the session this year.
Leahy: State Representative Griffey, I’m going to give you an invitation on air come on in-studio someday and let’s chat. How’s that sound?
Griffey: I’d love to Michael Patrick. I can’t thank you enough. Thank you, Jerry. I appreciate you. Appreciate you, Michael Patrick. Thank you guys for letting me chime in.
Leahy: All right. And we’ll have more with State Representative Jerry Sexton from Bean Station and the owner of Sexton Furniture Manufacturing after the news.