On Tuesday’s Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill and Michael Patrick Leahy and special guest co-host, Harriet Wallace of Fox 17 – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 am to 8:00 am –spoke to newly elected official Senate Majority Leader, Jack Johnson of Williamson County regarding his new position, the continuous Williamson county winning streak and what will be on the General Assembly’s table with a new “crop” of incoming state officials.
Gill: Jack, it’s like all about Williamson County lately.
Johnson: Great to be with you guys. You know I think it’s more coincidence than anything else. A lot of people have made note of that. And it is exciting for Williamson county because we think have some good people and so humbling and it’s such an honor to win the respect of your peers and be elected to these caucus leadership positions. So I’m excited, we’ve got a great new Governor whose coming in and were going to have a great speaker of the house. I think we’ve got a really good team to take Tennessee forward.
Gill: Well and people forget you’ve got the Lieutenant Governor from East Tennessee, the previous Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey was from East Tennessee. So, hey it’s our turn! It’s our turn here in middle Tennessee.
Johnson: (Chuckles) That’s right. The previous governor is from East Tennessee. And you know if you look at the Senate specifically, I mean when you talk about geographic diversity, which is important, you know we want to represent all areas of the state. But when you look at our committee chairmanships, our new caucus chairman, Kim Yaeger, my good friend he’s from Roan County over in East Tennessee, you’ve got Bo Watson is chairman of our finance committee, he’s from Hamilton county. And so, you know, Dolores Grechens chairman of the education committee, she’s from West Tennessee. So I think we’ve got a good geographic diversity there, and that’s important, but I am excited for Williamson County.
Gill clarified with Johnson that he will have to give up his chairmanship of the commerce committee and that Yaeger will have to give up his chairman ship. He asked Johnson if he regrets having to leave the chairmanship and who he believes will be front runners to fill those vacancies.
Johnson: Well, I’ll tell ya, it’s a great question. Because I care deeply about the commerce committee. I’ve had the honor of chairing that committee for the last nine years. It’s the committee that handles most of the really all of the business related legislation in the state. And if you look over the last you know, eight to ten years of what we’ve been able to accomplish in Tennessee from a business climate aspect. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done there. We’ve had a really good team on that committee. So yes, it is bitter sweet. I love that committee. But the good news is we’ve got a full stable of very confident, qualified Senators, who, any number of whom could step in that position adequately. I’m not going anywhere, I’ll still be right down the hall willing and able to offer any advice or that the new chairman might need. In terms of who might succeed me in that chairmanship I honestly don’t know. It’s somewhat of an open palette. I don’t envy speaker McNally, he’s got a lot of work cut out for him because as you said, state local government Tim Yeager, that chairmanship is now vacant. The commerce committee, if he moves a chairman of another committee into either one of those then he’s got to replace that one. So it’s somewhat of a domino effect, and so there’s going to be a lot of change in the Senate. But I think that’s good. I think its healthy. You need some new eyes and some fresh blood in some of these positions. So, I think we’ll benefit from it.
Gill pointed out that there is a lot of change in the house with twenty something new members coming in, but not as much turnover in the Senate. He mentioned special elections coming up and questioned how the turnover in the Senate effects it being able to conduct it’s business. Johnson answered with the belief that the change will be a positive and healthy change. He noted that this is the largest amount of turnover for the General Assembly since the Civil War. He reiterated what an exciting time it will be.
Wallace: Senator, good morning, this is Harriet Wallace. Hey, let me ask you. During the last assembly we saw, for the most part the big ticket items we’re looking at marijuana legalization, or medical marijuana. We were looking at gun, gun legislation, and then you know stuff related to crime. What do you believe are going to be those, or what are you hearing? What are going to be the big discussions during this upcoming assembly or will we see a continuous of what didn’t pass the last time.
Johnson: Well I, first of all with a new Governor, obviously we’re all waiting and governor elect Lee has been telling folks about some of his priorities. Which include expansion of vocational technical education. Which is something I’m very excited about. Rural economic development. You know our big major metropolitan areas across the state are doing very well but we do have a number of what we call “distressed counties”, “economically distressed counties”. And so we’re looking at economical development efforts for those counties. I think it’s going to be a priority for the Lee Administration and I think he’ll have a very favorable audience in the General Assembly for that issue as well. Another thing that governor elect Lee is passionate about is criminal justice reform. So I expect those to be some of the large ticket items that Governor Lee will be pursuing. And so I look forward to working with him on that as you three know, but your audience may not know, one of my primary responsibilities as majority leader is to be the Senate sponsor of the Governors legislative package including the budget and so I would be the prime Senate sponsor on those legislative initiates. Now, I may have other members carry the bills and actually present them in committee and on the floor, but we’ll work together as a team to get those initiatives passed. So, other than that, I think members of the General Assembly are kind of setting back, keeping their powder dry, if you will, on some of their initiatives waiting to see what Governor Lee will want to pursue. Regarding medical cannabis, medical marijuana. I do expect that issue to come back. I think that conversation will continue. I don’t know if the votes are there to pass it…yet, at this time. But I do expect that conversation to continue.
Gill asked Johnson about the recent decision to stop crossover voting and the idea of closed primaries. He noted that Lee and Haslam are not embracing closed primaries. He asked Johnson if he had a position if the closed primary issue was a good idea and whether he could get it passed through the new government. Johnson rebutted by stating that “closed primaries” was the wrong terminology and that he thought the term “party registration” was a more accurate description. But all he’s saying is that you can’t change your party the morning of the primary and that you must have some sort of position in advance. Party affiliation must be a decision made in advance and affirm your platform.
Johnson: I support it as long as you know we have a simple process. We’re not disenfranchising people. All we’re saying is, you need to make your mind up if you’re going to have party affiliation, you need to make your mind up well in advance of that primary.
Gill: Well and some of the opponents’ are making the claim that it’s going to disenfranchise people. And, look, if I’m in the Rotary Club I don’t get to go over and vote for who’s going to be President in the Exchange Club. And if you’re a Republican you ought to be electing the Republican nominee. It’s not depriving anybody of their right to vote. The general election everybody still has the opportunity to vote and pick their candidates. The question is, who picks the nominees for those parties. And to me a voter registration is not some honor less burden.
In conclusion, Johnson clarified what the legislative bill would actually mean and how it is not meant to disenfranchise voters but to make it clear, well in advance what party you are registered as. Leahy interjected near the end of the conversation by heartedly asking Johnson if he was going to continue playing bass for his band Austin Brothers. Johnson laughed and admitted that he will try to sneak in anytime he can as he stated that it was a “great stress reliever.”
Listen to the full segment:
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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 am to the Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill and Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Jack Johnson” by Jack Johnson.