State Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) had a live on-air melt down Friday during a radio interview on WWTN 99.7 FM when Nashville’s Morning News host Ralph Bristol questioned him about the fairness of granting illegal immigrant students in-state tuition.
Gardenhire is the sponsor of SB 1014/HB863 in the Senate. Rep. Mark White (R-Chattanooga) is the sponsor in the House.
The bill “exempts undocumented students from paying out-of-state tuition at a state institution of higher education, at the discretion of the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR), the state university governing boards, or the University of Tennessee (UT) board of trustees,” according to the bill summary in the Fiscal Note prepared by the Tennessee General Assembly Fiscal Review Committee:
Such individuals shall meet certain requirements to receive in-state tuition, including but not limited to, attending a school in this state for the two years immediately prior to graduation from high school; graduating from a Tennessee high school or obtaining a GED or HiSET credential awarded by a state-approved institution or organization, or completing high school in a Tennessee home school program; and is registered as an entering student or is enrolled at a state institution of higher education.
The bill passed the Senate Education Committee on a 7 to 2 vote Wednesday and has been sent to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.
Friday’s interview, which can be heard in its entirety here, began on a contentious note, and went downhill from there.
Is it fair, Bristol asked, to allow illegal immigrant students who are not American citizens to pay the much lower in-state tuition to attend Tennessee’s public colleges and universities when American citizens who reside in other states are required to pay the much higher out-of-state tuition.
Here’s a partial transcript of the interview that followed:
Bristol: What’s the answer to that question? Why would we do that?
Gardenhire: First of all, some of the things that you said in your introductory . . . were not exactly . . . fit what I’m trying to do.
None of these students can attend any of our colleges if there weren’t for vacancies in those schools. So let’s take UT Martin. They need 2,000 students to fill up their classrooms.
Why set them vacant? Why not let somebody pay tuition to go to those schools?
Number two, let’s look at it this way. If somebody doesn’t have a high school degree….anybody it doesnt matter who it is, they’re going to cost the taxpayers over $33,000 a year for the rest of their lives. . . They’re going to take benefits out of the system that all of us American taxpayers are paying, to supplement them . It doesn’t matter if they’re black, white, Latino, whatever…
Let me finish now. If they have a high school degree it drops down to $30,000. If they have some college it drops down to $28,000.
If they have a college degree, it doesn’t matter if it’s in basket weaving or nuclear science, they’re going to flip that thing around, they’re going to pay over $15,000 a year for the rest of their life in taxes more than they take out.
So, if people think these individuals are a drain on society, or whatever, then plug the dad gum drain.
Now let’s go back this way
We’ve already educated them in K-12. We’ve already made that investment in them.
Bristol: Right. We’re required to.
Gardenhire: We’re required to. We’ve spent the money. Now, what are you going to tell somebody that’s got a 4.0 average, was the valedictorian of their class, “Sorry, you’ve got to go flip hamburgers.”
Bristol: No, we tell them they pay the out-of-state tuition, just like their neighbors from Alabama. Why would . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: Why would you care about Alabama? What’s that got do do with it?
Bristol: Why would I care about illegal immigrants more than I care about an American citizen?
Gardenhire: Well, they’re not Tennesseeans, Alabamans aren’t.
Bristol: An illegal immigrant is not a Tennesseean either. They are, I don’t know, a Columbian or a Mexican or . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: Why are you trying to help somebody from Alabama?
Bristol: I’m not trying to help somebody from Alabama, I’m asking you . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: You just said, you just said . . .
Bristol: Let me clarify . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: No, no, no, no no. No, no, no. You needn’t clarify your question. You said Alabama . Why would you care for Alabama? I cheer for Tennessee.
These kids are here. These are children. Now let me tell you something.
They didn’t come here . . . think about this. . Their parents brought them here when they were young they could either stand at the border and they could raise their hands up and they could say “Mom, Dad you go to the land of milk and honey, I’m going to stay over here in poverty, in crime, and everything else in Mexico or Guatemala, or wherever they’re from, but you go along because I’m 4 years old and I understand the rule of law.”
They’re going to follow their parents. If you want to punish their parents, fine, go punish ’em.
I can’t believe anybody in America, anybody in Tennessee is willing or even thinking about punishing children for something the parents did.
Bristol: OK, first of all . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: You ought to be ashamed of yourself for even thinking about it
Bristol: Sir, I’m not proposing to punish them, I’m proposing to treat them . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: Yes you are, you’re you’re denying them their ability to pay
Bristol: You’re not allowing me to finish a thought, so how do you know what I’m thinking? I’m wondering . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: I know what you said. I know what you said.
Bristol: Apparently not. . . . I’m asking you why we should give illegal immigrants preferred immigration status if we don’t give other U.S. citizens preferred immigration status.
Why do we prefer illegal immigrants living in Tennessee? Why do we accomodate them more than other U.S. citizens?
Gardenhire: Well, I don’t care about other US citizens. I care about the people in Tennessee. That’s exactly what you said a while ago and I’ve been trying to correct you in your wrong assumptions. I don’t care about somebody living in Alabama, California, New Jersey, or wherever, I care about the people of Tennessee.
I care about educating the children in Tennessee so they can pay taxes be role models for their community, assimilate themselves into our society.
Look, this thing has gone on for generations.
First everybody didn’t like the Irish Catholics. That went on to the sixties, 1960 and 65.
Bristol: I don’t believe they came here illegally, did they? I don’t believe they violated the immigration laws to come here illegally. I believe they came under the immigration laws that were present at the time. That’s the only beef we have here . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: You’re missing my point
Bristol [interrupting]: No, you’re accusing me of discriminating against a nationality or something like that, I’m not . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: You’re trying to talk through me like you do everybody else. Let me tell you something, buddy, that’s not going to work with me. Now you’re going to listen to what I’m saying without cutting me off.
You think you want to read my mind, you better go pick up another book.
Bristol: I’m not trying to read your mind, sir, I’m trying to understand why . ..
Gardenhire [interrupting]: You don’t have the ability to understand what I’m saying, OK? Let’s just make that point right off the bat.
Bristol: Why are you so angry with me?
Gardenhire: Because you try to talk through me. I’m not upset. You’re the one doing the shouting and screaming, not me.
Bristol: Oh really? Maybe we should go listen to the tape and see who interrupted who the most and who sounds the angriest.
Gardenhire: I think we know who it is. I cannot believe that you would even want to take out anything to keep children–that’s the idea children– from getting an education in this state of Tennessee. Why would you want to do that? Why would anybody want to do that?
Bristol: I didn’t know we were talking about educating children in Tennessee, I thought we were talking about giving preferred tuition status to illegal immigrant college students.
Gardenhire: We’re talking about educating children. That’s all this is. You can wrap it around whatever flag you want to, this is about educating children, and why in the world you or anybody else would not want to do that absolutely boggles my mind .
Now let me tell you one other thing.
You talk about Republicans this and Republicans that.
Who are the three icons of the Republican conservative movement in the whole history of the world?
Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Jack Kemp.
Bristol: Who’s the leader of the Republican Party right now, his name is Donald Trump, I believe?
Gardenhire: – Are you going to let me finish or are you going to interrupt me every time?
Bristol: I’m sorry, I apologize for that.
Gardenhire: Who are the icons of the Republican conservative movement in the whole history of the world?
Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp.
All three of them had this same type of plan they wanted to push forward to help children no matter who they were get educated put them out in society and let them be a taxpaying people. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Bristol: And I’m wondering at what point do we stop providing even more incentives for people of other countries to simply ignore our immigration laws in pursuit of the American Dream. We’re forced to give them a free K-12 education, and now we want to give them a big tuition break on their college tuition too, instead of charging them . . .
Gardenhire [interrupting]: We’re not . .
Bristol: And now you’re talking over me just like I did over you, so you can apologize to me, I’ll wait for you.
Bristol: Tennessee citizens do not pay the full tuition costs to go to school. We give them a break because they’re Tennessee citizens.
Alabama citizens pay a full tuition price to go to Tennessee schools.
I don’t think were demonizing Alabama residents, and I don’t think we demonize illegal immigrants by making them pay the full price of their tuition.
And I’ll let you have the last word.
Gardenhire: Okay, number one, you’re wrong on your assumptions, because there’s a lot of Alabama students, Kentucky students, Georgia students, Arkansas students, Mississippi students, Virginia students, North Carolina students that come to our schools and pay in state tuition. Thank you.
Bristol: You’re welcome. I’m sorry you’re so angry with me. I’m not angry with you.
Gardenhire: I’m not angry. I’m not angry, I just don’t like somebody talking through me like you did. You can get away with it with your other guests, but you can’t get away with it from me.