CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp failed to ask Gov. Bill Lee (R-TN) a single question on Saturday about the “woke” policies of his administration as implemented by two cabinet members appointed by the governor: Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn, and Commissioner of Human Resources Juan Williams.
Schlapp moderated a panel at Saturday’s CPAC in Dallas on ‘A Conversation on Leadership, Justice, and Jobs in the Age of Wokeism’ with a two-member panel of Republican governors, Gov. Stitt of Oklahoma and Gov. Lee of Tennessee.
As The Tennessee Star reported:
Tennessee State Rep. John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) has formally asked Tennessee Department of Human Resources (DOHR) Commissioner Juan Williams to explain the diversity and equity council program he wants state agencies to enforce. In his letter, Ragan requested that Williams justify his actions — in a timely manner — and explain how much it will cost taxpayers.
Without telling anybody, at least not in a straightforward matter, the Tennessee Department of Human Resources’ (DOHR) leadership staff this year snuck in a diversity and equity council program that they want state agencies to enforce. Gov. Bill Lee, according to the DOHR’s 2020 Annual Report, told Commissioner Juan Williams in June of last year “to build a framework for strengthening efforts around the employee experience in our workplace.”
Tennessee’s Education Commissioner, Penny Schwinn, wants to award another no-bid contract – this time, $7.5 million in federal funds over 3 years for a variety of services from NCS Pearson. These services would entail a K-3 Early Grade Universal Screening and Monitoring System (EGUSMS), which would include universal screening for literacy and math, dyslexia screening, mental health screening, progress monitoring, and data organization. Pearson’s EGUSMS would also provide the online reporting tools, training resources, and technical support for educators implementing the EGUSMS tools. If all options to renew are exercised for a 5-year term, then the cost would total $12.5 million.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn promised to publish educator guidance on the state’s critical race theory ban by August 1. The ban was first proposed in the Tennessee General Assembly by State Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge). The law itself doesn’t mention critical race theory by name, but it does address the theory’s tenets and practices at length.
A parent coalition is concerned that the Wit and Wisdom curriculum, approved for use in 33 counties, may violate Tennessee’s K-12 critical race theory ban. The coalition, Moms for Liberty of Williamson County, formed a parent-led deep dive team to examine the entire curriculum, including the accompanying teacher manuals. According to their findings, Moms for Liberty of Williamson County believes that one of the learning modules within the curriculum for second graders teaches content that was banned from K-12 education recently by the Tennessee legislature: that one race is inherently superior to another; that individuals should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress because of their race; that the U.S. is fundamentally or irredeemably racist; and the promotion of a division between or resentment of a race.
Read the full transcript of the panel discussion featuring Gov. Lee:
Schlapp: We were talking about professional sports. I have a feeling you’d have a lot of teams that would want you to be their governor in their state. We’ve never experienced anything like this red – blue divide.
We are in a state with red officials in all the important positions. Your states are similar. Let’s start off by talking about what’s going on in this country Governor Lee. Why are we so divided?
Lee: I think we are divided because there is an effort to undermine this country from its very foundation. There are those who don’t like this country. Who don’t believe in what it stands for.
They don’t believe in the greatness and the exceptionalism of it. And they will from within they know that the way destruct is to divide from within. And there is a strategy there that is relentless.
Schlapp: I told the governor I’m from Kansas. And Kansas? Oklahoma is there; is a Kansan here? That’s great. We’re not just Oakies in the room. We are very proud of the job you are doing in Oklahoma.
(Applause) Oklahoma has had a very proud tradition of more moderate to conservative democrats. Those days are over, right? They just seem to have embraced this more radical idea of socialism.
I don’t think there has ever been a bigger time when there is a difference between a blue state and a red state. And COVID really brought that out.
We believe in freedoms in Oklahoma and I know we believe that in Tennessee. And personal responsibility. It’s what we talked about the whole time.
I don’t believe that the government should be involved in every part of our lives. And you saw blue state governors really trying to dictate people going to church and what they can do.
And we just had a totally different approach in Oklahoma by keeping businesses open and by believing and trusting Oklahomans being transparent with the data.
And you are seeing now states and businesses flock from states that had shutdown mentalities to states like Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Florida that are open for business.
Schlapp: We left Maryland and went to Florida and we went to Texas. Now we are kind of pondering the idea of having another CPAC.
I know my staff is quaking in their cowboy boots right now, and we are kind of wondering if there are some other really important red states besides Florida and Texas. I don’t know. What you guys think. There is Nashville. Oklahoma City.
Lee: Yes there is Nashville. (Crowd cheers) We like Nashville.
Schlapp: You guys have any pay-ins of which would be better?
Schlapp: Maybe you need to make one of those bests.
Lee: We had 350,000 people celebrating the greatest nation in the world last July fourth the other night in downtown Nashville at a Brad Paisley concert.
Schlapp: You could handle it?
Lee: Yeah, I think we could handle that.
Stitt: Come to Oklahoma where Garth Brooks plays for you every night. (Schlapp chuckles) (Crowd cheers)
Schlapp: And I kind of like his wife, too. So this issue of criminal justice reform, it being controversial – but it’s interesting. The left has an approach to how they deal with communities of color.
This whole idea of embracing radicalism, defunding cops, pay off in many major cities. That’s one approach. Then there is the approach that our team at partnering with both of you who are real leaders on this issue.
Criminal justice reform is let’s do the right thing from a public policy standpoint. And it turns out that the right thing when it comes to criminal justice reform is not everybody has to be locked up forever for very minor reasons.
And it turns out that communities of color are really responding to this new approach. Governor Lee, I know you have a great track record in Tennessee. Tell folks what you are thinking about that.
Lee: You know criminal justice reforms are oftentimes misunderstood, really. The left has as they have with many of the issues that are important with Americans, have turned it into something that is divisive.
To undermine that which is a movement in the right direction. Becoming a more perfect union. The desire to undermine that has labeled it the wrong way.
Criminal justice reform is actually very conservative. Number one, it’s a public safety issue. We’ve seen crime rise all over this country. Public safety. People want to live in a safe neighborhood.
If you do criminal justice reform in a conservative way tough on crime and smart on crime. Recognizing that there are too many people incarcerated that should not be there and are not a threat to society but have become part of the system.
95 percent of everyone sitting in a jail cell is getting out and they are all coming out into our communities. And right now, about half of them will recommit a crime and go right back into prison and we pay for it.
In Tennessee at $30,000 a pop. Another victim, another crime, another $30,000. There is nothing about that that we need to continue. Conservatives follow data. I’m an engineer by trade and data drives our decision-making process.
The evidence shows that if we take care of those in the right way and I mean take care of them by paying attention to, those that are coming out of prison if we do that in the right way we reduce the recidivism rate, we reduce the crime rate, we reduce the cost to taxpayers and we have an overall better outcome.
Schlapp: In Oklahoma, you’ve been a real leader on this topic. Similar kinds of things?
Stitt: We have a saying in Oklahoma. Let’s lock up people we are afraid of, not that we are mad at. As a businessman when I came into office the first time, I looked at all the data of where we compare to other states.
And one thing that I wasn’t proud of is in Oklahoma we were 50th. We are in last place among every other state. We incarcerated more men and women than any other state.
And I just said, you know, our people aren’t any different than any other state. We have a sentencing problem. We are incarcerating people too long.
So I really started digging into that. And I signed the largest commutation in U.S. history. I didn’t know it at the time but one day I let 450 low-level drug offenders get out of prison.
And we’ve seen recidivism go down. We’ve seen violent crime and non-violent crime go down in the state of Oklahoma. And so we are leading on that. We are looking at sentencing reform.
Listen, we are absolutely protecting Oklahomans is my number one priority. But again, we are going to look at how we do it. And we are going to do second chances.
We passed the Sara Stitt Act, that’s my wife’s name, to give people driver’s licenses before they get out of prison so they can go get a job. And then you think about the DHS system and all the other drains on taxpayers when you do that.
It’s really a conservative approach. I closed a private prison in Oklahoma and saved the taxpayers 25 million dollars. So we’re proud of that and we think we should lead on this issue. (Applause)
Schlapp: It’s kind of funny you know, Republicans tend to be dollars and sense people. Like you were saying, you are a trained engineer.
Actually, when you do the right thing in this area you save a heck of a lot of money in your budgets. It’s a strange thing and I don’t think people understand.
People like Joe Biden and Bill Clinton and a lot of Democrats who wanted to act like they were moderate were really tough on crime. They were the leaders in lock everyone up and throw away every key.
Like you said, even people who we didn’t have to fear because they weren’t violent offenders, it just made good politics. And the problem with that is it costs a heck of a lot of money.
At the same time, the Democrats don’t seem to have any problem of letting anybody come through that border without even stopping them. What is going on? Isn’t that insane?
Lee: If you look at themes like them to undermine. The theme really is based on lawlessness. What we see in the defund the police movement, is a movement towards lawlessness.
What we see with the largest movement of illegal immigration in this country in 20 years. That’s lawlessness. Where there is a disregard for law and order, you see that theme occurring in one issue after the other.
I’m actually going to the border tonight. We have 300 national guardsmen on the border from Tennessee (Applause) I’m very proud of these men and women and the work that they do for you and me to protect this country.
So I’m going down there tonight to just observe and then to meet with them. It’s an issue whether it’s criminal justice reform.
Whether it’s the immigration policy and the lack of a secure border, there is a theme of lawlessness that comes through it. We are a country of law and order.
People across America want to live in a civil society that is based on law and order. If we do not defend and rigorously pursue that from law enforcement to the military to criminal justice reform, if we don’t pursue that we’ll lose this country.
Schlapp: Governor Stitt, the White House, and Democrats are telling us all or spinning us that they are the ones that are giving you all the money to fund the cops.
Could you please set the record straight? (Stitt chuckles) You are laughing. that helps me understand that that could possibly be true.
They are arguing the most recent bill, emergency spending, as we have to call everything in Washington, that they are actually the ones bussing up all the accounts to pay for all the cops in the states.
And that’s their argument. That they are not for defunding the cops when as a matter of fact they are for funding all the cops. As a guy that’s responsible for his state’s budget, I’d like to know what is true.
Stitt: We haven’t gotten one penny from the feds to fund police. That’s all a state function. And we are doubling down on backing the blue in the state of Oklahoma. (Applause and cheers)
We passed an anti-doxing law this year to make sure that nobody can, we are not going to publish where the police live. It’s not allowed. You can’t attack a police officer.
We are going to protect the immunity that they have. In other states, you are seeing recruitment go down. In Oklahoma, we just funded a completely full new trooper academy.
We are hearing from all over the country of troopers and law enforcement wanting to leave their states. So they know we got their back in the state of Oklahoma. So we are, as the Governor said, a state of law and order.
Schlapp: Good for you. One of the things a lot of people don’t know if the interaction with the criminal justice system hasn’t affected you or your family, it’s pretty rough this concept that 95 percent of the people incarcerated are coming back out into our communities.
Some are in your states. So the common sense approach is to say if 95 percent of them are coming out, do you want them to be drug-free?
Do you want them to be able to read and write? Do you want them to have some skills to be able to get a job and to have functional relationships with their loved ones?
I know this is something you both have focused on, this idea of reentry and making somebody ready. They are going to come to our communities we have to understand that’s a reality.
If we want them to do is have a job and healthy relationships and not immediately get on assistance.
Lee: I worked on a prison re-entry ministry for about 20 years before becoming governor. I mentored men coming out of prison and saw that if we make good decisions with people that are re-entering society then we’ll have good outcomes.
This particular ministry I worked with had about an eight percent recidivism rate with men that stayed with their program for a year once they got out as compared to 50 percent by the state.
If we can move recidivism by two, three, four percentage points in a state, we save hundreds of millions of dollars. And more importantly, you know what we save?
We saved their life. For every person we keep out of prison, their children will not likely go to prison. And if we didn’t keep them out of prison their child is likely to go.
Schlapp: It kind of sounds like you are saying that Jesus is the best parole officer. (Laughter)
Lee: He’s the answer to a lot of challenges that we have. All of them, actually.
Stitt: We did something similar. I went to another state and toured some things that they had done. So we just set up a seminary in a state prison to bring Jesus behind those walls. (Applause) And ultimately we know that that makes a difference.
Schlapp: I want to caution you two. You are getting radical. This might get canceled from social media. This is really getting off the track here.
Lee: Yeah. You mentioned budget. Matt, I want to say this because you were bragging on his budget and really red states budgets. It became really evident this year that the way conservatives manage taxpayer dollars.
There were stark differences across this country. And that matters. That matters because it allows us then to be able to invest in things like criminal justice reform.
Tennessee was one of seven states in the country that had a positive economic return from April 2020 to April 2021. There were only seven.
The reason we did that because we knew, I was a businessman just a few years ago, every time we made a decision in government I looked at it from a businessman’s perspective.
We knew that keeping our businesses open through the pandemic was the only way that our people could survive. And because of that, we had surpluses.
We had a positive economic return as you said. And at the same time, Tennessee is the third-lowest taxed state per capita in the country. So we have very low taxes, virtually no debt, and yet we had surpluses after one of the greatest economic downturns in the country.
That’s what happens when you have conservative principles in managing a state budget versus what we see across the country.
Stitt: Yes. Well to piggyback on that, you see it across the country. The red states that have kept open and kept businesses open. It’s not rocket science by being business-friendly.
Having low tax policies. Deregulating your agencies and your regulatory bodies. You have businesses wanting to flock there. And we had a budget surplus this year as well.
One of the few states that did, like the Governor said. And we actually cut taxes in the state of Oklahoma. I cut corporate taxes from six to four percent because we want every corporate headquarters that if they are already in Oklahoma, we want them staying in Oklahoma. And we want to attract more.
And we cut individual tax rates. And I also instituted the earned income tax credit and put that back for the working poor. So we are really trying to move the needle. As Biden is trying to raise taxes, in Oklahoma, we are cutting taxes. (Applause)
Schlapp: You guys are good. Every line is an applause.
Schlapp: It’s a good audience. It’s the best audience. We have this whole divide between red and blue and we see people voting with their feet.
And by the way, they can’t do anything with those kinds of votes that are really getting counted because they are going from blue failed cities to red states.
You see the economic engine going into your states, specifically your two states are really benefitting from this.
Stitt: Yeah well I’ve got to tell the audience here and everybody watching on TV, my Oklahoma economic developer of the year award, and I could have chosen a lot of people in Oklahoma, but I decided to give it to Governor Gavin Newsom of California. (Schlapp laughs) He’s done more for our state than anybody.
Schlapp: That’s good. (Cheers) So you have this whole idea that the red states are growing. People are leaving blue states to red states. Socialism couldn’t be working because everybody is fleeing these states.
And then you have the question of The Swamp. You’ve got the question of D.C. There’s this radical idea that we ought to get these agencies out of the beltway and send them out across the country.
If you had one cabinet agency you could have in the state of Tennessee, what would it be?
Lee: Oh gosh. I’d like three of them. (Stitt laughs)
Schlapp: Ok. Don’t be like that other former Governor. Don’t forget what they are. (Laughter)
Lee: There are so many. If I could have one it would be the Department of Education because man, we need to radically change the way we educate our children in this country.
There would be no common core in the country and there would be no critical race theory in America if the department of education were in Tennessee.
Schlapp: Critical race theory makes me almost pine for the days we were fighting common core. That seems a lot easier than the craziness they are doing now. What agency would you take Governor Stitt?
Stitt: I love the Department of Ags. We’d take that. We’d take EPA. We would totally change EPA. Oil and gas and energy and the environment. So we could take any of them.
Lee: It would be a concept thought wouldn’t it? To take the federal government and actually spread it out to the people.
Lee: It would be a transformation for this nation. It’s not a crazy idea. It’s really an interesting concept.
Stitt: And if Washington, D.C. wants to become a state then they can’t have the Capitol. We’ll take the Capitol in Oklahoma City.
Schlapp: Like it. (Applause) I like this concept. We believe in choice as conservatives. Choose.
Lee: Choose where you want it.
Schlapp: If you want to be a state, go be a state. But you ain’t going to be the Capitol anymore. And then I’d think we’d have a great competition for where that Capitol would be.
And we know economically where that Capitol would be an its in these red states. And that’s why we are here. And we appreciate the fact that you guys or both of you gentlemen are looking at this issue of criminal justice reform and taking the right steps.
And what you are doing is you are providing leadership. That’s what’s lacking in this country. And to close out this segment, our current president loves to talk about how he wants to unify us.
And it’s hard to read the man, but maybe he wants to unify us. What’s your interaction with the president of the United States? Does he call you?
Lee: Let me say this about the former president of the united state here because you talked about how we got this issue of criminal justice reform and how we’ve talked about it being conservative.
I just want to thank President Trump because it was an agenda item for him and it made governor’s like myself able to talk about and to cut through the conversation about criminal justice reform.
President Trump understood that there was a way to do criminal justice reform conservatively. And it paved the way for governor’s like us to do the work that we did. So, I thank him for that.
Stitt: Yeah. We both came into office in ’19 and President Trump was so inclusive with all governors. Republican, Democrat. He had conference calls every single week himself with Vice President Pence. All of his cabinet secretaries were accessible.
It hasn’t been that way with this new administration. I’ve talked to President Biden twice. And we were talking about the approach of energy in the state of Oklahoma.
We’ve got 40 percent wind. Most people don’t know that about Oklahoma. We love our oil and gas industry. But we had this deep freeze all over the south if you remember that.
I told the president at the time if we didn’t have an “all of the above” approach because gas was frozen. Wind was frozen. And coal saved the day.
I said, we would have had two weeks of blackouts had we not be all of the above approach in Oklahoma. And immediately he spins to battery.
We got to talk about batteries. So we have to have a baseload. I know I’m getting off-topic, there, but it is so important that we have energy independence and we don’t sell our future to radical countries that don’t like us. (Applause)
Schlapp: What do you all think about these two great Republican governors of great America?
Watch the full interview here: