Tennessee State Rep. Jerry Sexton Joins Leahy in Studio to Discuss His Background and a Typical Day in the House

Jan 22, 2021


Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed TN. (R) State Representative Jerry Sexton to the studio to discuss his background and agenda for the special and legislative sessions in the General Assembly.

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.

Sexton: Absolutely.

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.

Sexton: Wow.

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.

Sexton: Absolutely.

Leahy: Now the Tennessee General Assembly. You were first elected in 2014?

Sexton: Yes.

Leahy: In 2014 on a very constitutional conservative agenda.

Sexton: Absolutely.

Leahy: Fiscally conservative.

Sexton: Absolutely.

Leahy: That’s you.

Sexton: Yes.

Leahy: And you come from a small business background.

Sexton: I do.

Leahy: Tell us about your business. It’s called Sexton Furniture Manufacturing.

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.

(Commercial break)

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.

Sexton: Yes.

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?

Sexton: Absolutely.

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.

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