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 Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton to the newsmaker line to discuss his letter to Governor Bill Lee calling for a special session to address COVID mandates and the likelihood he will do it.
Leahy: Joined on our newsmaker line by the speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, Cam Sexton. Speaker Sexton, thanks so much for joining us this morning.
Sexton: Good morning. Glad to be here.
Leahy: I read your letter. It’s a very thoughtful letter, and you lay out the case very well I think. You sent this letter yesterday asking Governor Lee to call a special session.
I note that it’s signed by all 74 members of the Republican Party who are in the House of Representatives. It looks like unanimous support for this letter. That’s pretty impressive.
Sexton: Yes. All members, the Republican Caucus feel like it’s enough out there for us to come in and meet in a special session for various issues in that we didn’t put the direction or solutions.
But we want to talk about the topics that needed to be discussed and debated. And hopefully, we can get into a special session and the Senate will feel the same way.
Leahy: In your letter, you say: we write today to request that you call an extraordinary session of the General Assembly in order for the legislature to convene and address misdirected and mandated responses to COVID-19 by local entities and officials.
That’s pretty clear to me. It makes sense.
Sexton: Yes. What we’ve seen is the mask mandates by the school systems, which, in my opinion, is mandating and taking away the parents’ rights to make those decisions for the students. You have an example in West Tennessee right now.
The Shelby County Independent Health Board of unelected bureaucrats that are mandating mask mandates on schools all across the county and also on private schools in the county.
And they’re looking at doing another mask mandate all across the county. There’s a lot of issues out there that need to be looked at, and it needs to be looked at why – the school year is in the beginning and not wait until you get into the middle or towards the end.
Leahy: Has the governor acknowledged receipt of this letter calling for a special session?
Sexton: Yes he has. They received it yesterday that they’re going to review it. I think we also gave a copy to the Senate as well for them to review. And so we’re hopeful that we could be in a special session here.
Leahy: Did the governor’s people, when they received the letter, give you any indication as to how long they will take to review the request?
Sexton: No, they didn’t. I know we’ve had discussions with them and the Senate over the last week or so after the press conference as the issues started to rise. We feel like in the House that this issue is continuing to grow. It’s going to get bigger.
I think you saw that with the parents in Williamson County the other night and what’s happening in Shelby County. I think this issue is getting bigger by the day. And it’s just something that we feel like in the House that we need to address.
Leahy: Will the governor wait to hear, to see, if the state Senate gives him a similar letter, or will he just act upon your request from you and the entire Republican caucus from the House of Representatives?
Sexton: That’s a decision that the governor has to make. I’m sure he’s going to reach out to the Senate and ask them their opinion of where they are. I’m not sure if they’re willing to do a letter or want to do a letter. I think that we’ll just have to watch that over the next few days.
Leahy: When you say you’re not sure they are willing to do a letter in the state Senate, we have what, 33 state senators? Twenty-six of them or 27 of them are Republicans.
Sexton: I think 27.
Leahy: You know how to count votes. (Chuckles) Do you know how many votes there are over there? Twenty-seven Republicans and Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally. He seems to have a different, shall we say, leadership style in the state Senate than you have in the House of Representatives.
This is just me talking. You seem to be more proactively supporting a conservative agenda than the lieutenant governor because here in Tennessee, the president of the state Senate is also the lieutenant governor. He seems to be not quite as attuned to a traditional conservative record. When was the last time you talked to him about this?
Sexton: We had a conversation earlier this week about these issues, and he has put out a statement. I put out a statement. I have great respect for the lieutenant governor and for the senators.
We have 99 members in the House. He has 33. It’s a different makeup. We have a little bit more rural legislators because our districts are bigger. And so I think his leadership style is very good for the Senate and the House leadership style is more a match for the House.
Nothing is wrong with that. And we’re hopeful that we can get to a decision to get a special session. That’s just a decision that the Senate has to make for themselves if that’s what they want to do.
And the House, we had to make our decision. And sometimes we agree on things. Sometimes we don’t. But that’s okay. That’s the difference between the House and the Senate.
Leahy: That’s the way it works. Did he give you any indication, either way, that he intended to send a letter or ask his caucus there in the state Senate to send a letter to the governor asking for a special session?
Sexton: No, we didn’t discuss the letter at that time. We were just discussing the issues and what was going on. And so that’s up to him and to the senators to have those conversations. Now I know there are senators who want to go in a special session.
I’m not counting votes on their side. But if they have 33 senators, it takes two-thirds of them who want to go in, that’s close to 22 votes. And so we’ll just have to wait and see what direction they want to go in.
Leahy: Is that two-thirds number a constitutional requirement? Where is that two-thirds number come from?
Sexton: There are two ways to call a special session. One way is the governor can just call it. The other way is two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate members can request it.
Our letter asked the governor to make that call. But we did have over two-thirds of the members who signed the letter. It wasn’t an actual call by us, but it does show that we have the support to call a special session.
Leahy: Speaker Sexton, I always learn something new when you’re on. I did not know that two-thirds of each House could call a special session. That’s actually quite significant I think here in Tennessee.
It would be easier for the governor, I think, to call a special session. He does not need two-thirds of the state Senate to say yes. My take on this is that probably most of the 27 state senators want a special session, and the lieutenant governor acknowledges very much in that sense.
We’ve got another 60 seconds. Here’s my last question for you. Speaker Sexton, what is the likelihood that Governor Lee will, in fact, call a special session? Is it more or less likely this will happen?
Sexton: I think it’s more likely. But again, that’s up to the governor. We spoke as a House, I think, as a united Republican caucus, saying that we feel like there are things that we need to come in and at least have a debate on and have a conversation.
For example, as we said in the letter, a parent’s right to make health care decisions that affect the mentality and physicality of their students and compare that to the government’s ability to mandate healthcare decisions upon them.
We think discriminating against people for not having a vaccine passport to come into your business – when you know that if you’re vaccinated or unvaccinated, you pose the same risk because you can spread the virus – is a discriminatory practice. There are things that we need to talk about, and we’re hopeful that we can get there.
Leahy: Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Cam Sexton, first, thank you so much for joining us today. And also congratulations on this very well-written concise letter laying out the case for a special session to the governor. Thanks for joining us.
Sexton: Thank you all for having me.
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.
Photo “Cameron Sexton” by Speaker Cameron Sexton.