Live from Music Row Friday 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 Rep. (R) Mark White of Memphis to the newmakers line to discuss his background and how the Tennessee General Assembly may respond to the Biden administration executive order regarding transgender sports.
Leahy: We are joined on our newsmaker line now by State Representative Mark White of Memphis. Good morning Representative White. Thanks for joining us.
White: Good morning, Michael. Thank you very much.
Leahy: Are you cold? Are you in Memphis or are you in Nashville?
White: Yeah. I’m in Memphis. We came home last weekend from session and we couldn’t go back this week due to the snow and ice. We got one of those 25-year flurries of snow down in Memphis. And it was pretty back on Monday, but now I’m ready for it to move on.
Leahy: What kind of conditions are you experiencing in your house and in your neighborhood of Memphis?
White: We’ve been fortunate. We have not lost power or anything like that or water. They did ask us to conserve water yesterday and asked us to boil it because they turned the water pressure down. There have been a lot of pipe leaks I believe and so they turn the pressure down. And now they’ve asked us to boil water just to be safe.
Leahy: So have you gone out of the house? Have you driven in the streets? Or you just hunkered down?
White: We just hunkered down this week. We prepared last weekend. And my wife and I just stayed in the house and got caught up on a lot of emails and a lot of work.
Leahy: Now that is good. The weather by the way should lighten up and we should be warmer according to the forecast and should start thawing tomorrow and Sunday. And so Monday, do you currently anticipate that the Tennessee General Assembly will be back in session Monday or Tuesday?
White: I do. I plan to go back Monday night as I normally do and it’s time to get started. You know, we had a special session for a week. And then we had one week of regularization and then we had to stay out this week. So I think we’re all ready to start.
Leahy: So when you come up from Memphis, do you stay in a hotel for a couple of nights?
White: Yes. This is my 12th year and the second year I was up there. I got an apartment because I wanted my wife to be with me a lot and give her a place to stay. And we’ve had an apartment for the past 11 years.
Leahy: Oh good.
White: I wish I had purchased something 11 years ago when property prices were down a lot of Nashville. (Leahy laughs) But it went the other way.
Leahy: Yeah I know. But hindsight is 20/20 on these things.
White: Isn’t that the truth.
Leahy: So you have a fascinating background? We have something in common. You are Church of Christ? Is that right?
White: I grew up Church of Christ. My father was a minister.
Leahy: Your father was a Church of Christ minister?
White: Yes he was. He graduated from Lipscomb College back in 1958 as a minister and he had a really good career. We lived in Florida when I was growing up. I’m a native Tennessean and was born in Tennessee. But we lived down there for a number of years in Naples which is 80 degrees right now and sunny. And I always missed Naples but I’ve spent most of my life in Tennessee.
Leahy: I grew up Catholic in Upstate New York, but we moved to Nashville in 1991. And by that time I joined the Church of Christ. And we attended Woodmont Hills for many years where Rubel Shelley was. You probably know Rubel.
White: I do. He used to minister in Memphis before he came to Nashville.
Leahy: He’s from the West Tennessee area. And he lives back here now. He’s a great guy. Now you graduated from the Univesity of Memphis in 1973-74. You were a K-12 science teacher from 1973-1980. And then an elementary principal at Harding Academy from 77 to 80. What was that like?
White: It was great. It was one of those that you really enjoyed this. I was a seventh-grade science teacher. Seventh grade is my favorite grade to teach. And Harding Academy, being a private school, had 11 elementary back then that fed into the high school. So for three years, I was principal for one of their K-6 schools. And I just loved that.
And loved the elementary. I taught fifth and sixth-grade science and history at that time. I always thought I’d go back. I left it when I married because I needed to make a lot more money with starting a home. I always thought I would go back but that didn’t happen. I loved the children a lot. And that’s why I enjoy being the Chairman of the Education Committee.
Leahy: So for about 25 years you owned a business called Grand Events and Party Rentals. It grew into a successful business with more than 100 employees. Tell us about that.
White: Right, we started that my brother and I. It was 1990 and we got into the special event business. We did everything from tents and special projects. We even did one up on up in New York. The demand was heavy but right now that type of business is suffering due to a lack of social gatherings. But we grew that my brother and I.
It was a great business. We did weddings and built props and all kinds of things. It was a great business, but it worked you to death. It was a seven days a week 24 hours a day type of business. And eventually, a company out of California was buying businesses like that across the country and we sold out in 2007 which opened up a window for me to actually run for office.
Leahy: The timing of that seems pretty good right? You sold your small business in 2007 and it freed you up to do other things.
White: Right. Right before the 2008 thing hit. It was a good time to sell. I never understood why somebody wanted to buy our business because as I said it was 24/7. But it was a large corporation.
Leahy: Once they gave you the check you didn’t worry about why they wanted to do it, right?
White: I used to be at this time of morning putting up tents.
Leahy: Yeah, that’s a lot of hard work. So you’re elected to the House of Representatives in 2010. You are now the chairman of the education committee. Is that right?
White: Right. This year we have two education committees. I’m chairman of the education committee, which oversees two subcommittees of K-12 and higher ed.
Leahy: You had a special session in education. What’s the big news coming out of this session of the Tennessee General Assembly both the special session that has ended and then the regular session that you’re currently still in the process of?
White: Sure. Well, you know the special session was called by Governor Lee. And Tennessee has had a heavy focus on education now for many years starting back even under Governor Phil Bredesen when I came in my first year in 2010. Eight years under Governor Haslam and now a continuation under Governor Lee. Tennessee enjoyed rapid growth. We did a lot of changes in education in the last 10-11 years.
And so we were recognized as the fastest in improving in education. Then the pandemic hit last year. And so governor Lee called us in to deal with certain issues that dealt with the learning disruption that we’ve been in for the past year. And so we dealt with three bills. Basically literacy bill, learning loss bill, and an accountability bill. And so we focused on that during that time. And I think we’re going to have a little bit of tweaking to do now.
In that special session, you get the basic foundation of what you want. We had to do it in a special session to go ahead and pass it out so that whatever we passed out with the foundational principles or framework learning laws and summer schools could go ahead and be put in place now. If we waited until the regular session and the bills were passed out in March and April it would be too late to do anything this summer.
Leahy: So President Biden signed an executive order about transgenders. And the idea there is he’s requiring and all federal government agencies and all folks that receive money from the federal government to give transgenders the opportunity to compete in women’s sports. Now to me this seems monumentally stupid and lacking in common sense. What is the reaction of the Tennessee General Assembly and Governor Lee to that executive order?
White: We do have a conservative General Assembly right now and a majority of people who are conservative. And so the reaction has been that’s why we do have a bill that has already passed through the House subcommittee. It would have gone through full committee this week but since we were out it would be next Wednesday.
The issue on that is our society in many ways in my opinion and this is my belief now. I have a conservative background as I just told you earlier. And my belief on this and then the bill that we’re moving through is is that it would basically hurt women’s sports. All this bill is asking for is simply if you are a biological female or a biological male that you play the sport of your birth certificate.
You can always make plenty of exceptions to the case but in general a male who transgenders to a female is more biologically strong than a biological female. And we believe it could damage the future of women’s sports. Why is that important? Because young girls who grow up and play sports like basketball, volleyball, or any sport for girls, also depend on college scholarships just like boys do as they go through high school.
Leahy: Exactly. Stick with us. We’ll get the rest of that answer on transgender sports and the executive order of Joe Biden and what the Tennessee General Assembly is doing to push back against that.
Listen to the full first hour here:
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