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 Former Congresswoman Diane Black in-studio to reflect on her public services successes in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
Leahy: We are talking with former Congressman Diane Black and Dr. David Black, the founders of 2ndVote. 2ndvote.com on the web. Diane, you have such an interesting background in government. You served as a Tennessee state representative. You also were a state senator?
Black: I was a state senator.
Leahy: And a member of the House of Representatives in the United States.
Black: That’s correct.
Leahy: That is an extensive background. We were talking a little bit earlier about the importance of people feeling the sense of human agency.
That is, I can change the outcome of things. That, Dr. David Black, is the traditional American can-do attitude. That’s what you used throughout your life to build your business.
Dr. Black: Well, I think Ronald Reagan’s great quote is, it can be done. It can be done. I always loved the quote from Henry Ford. He said the man who says he can’t and the man who says he can are both right.
Leahy: Now, I’m astonished. And all the great phrases a technical scientist has easily at his disposal. That’s very good.
Dr. Black: Well, thank you. (Laughter)
Leahy: But I want to go back to this concept of American optimism, of the American can-do right now, August 19, 2021. You look at what America can do. We have these failing institutions.
We have this absolutely awful commander in chief who’s done everything wrong. And you think, oh, my goodness, this looks pretty bad. But Dr. David Black, as you said, there’s an ebb and flow to history.
I look at that ebb and flow of history, and I point back to an event, Diane Black, that you played in a very important role in 1999. The Tennessee tax revolt. I want to talk about that.
What the experience was there, how you stopped the effort to put a state income tax in Tennessee. And I’m going to take that thread, and I’m going to take it from 1999 to where we are today in 2021.
Black: Well, thank you. I came into the state legislature because I wanted to make a difference with all the taxes that were being talked about. And so I ran for office. Never had run before and I hadn’t lived really here in Tennessee that long.
Knocked on a lot of doors and got elected. And what an honor that was. I actually have a picture of myself during the campaign with Governor Sundquist, who said no new taxes.
Leahy: That was his platform when he ran for reelection in 1998. So he runs for re-election. His promise, never will I introduce the state income tax. Was that your first year?
Black: That was my very first year.
Leahy: You were elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1998.
Black: That’s right.
Leahy: What happened next?
Black: Oh, my goodness. He called me into his office and he said, I want to initiate a state income tax. And I was not a politician. I was a nurse who came to the legislature to do some things in health care and also to prevent taxes.
I thought, I can’t believe this. You stood right there with me. We have a picture taken I handed out – was part of my literature. You can’t ask me to do that.
And he said, oh, yes, I can. And you know that bypass that you’re supposed to get around your city, you won’t get that unless you vote for this state income tax.
Leahy: That’s what he said to you?
Black: Oh, yes.
Leahy: He said that to you.
Black: And not being a politician, but just being a girl who was raised in public housing, I was a pretty rough and tough girl. And so I just sat up and I said, that sounds like a threat. And he said it is.
And I said, do you want to take that back? And he said, no, I’m not going to take it back. I said, well, I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to walk out the door and I’m going to call The Gallatin News in Gallatin and tell them what you’ve said to me.
And then I’m going to ask them, I’m going to put my home phone number in there, and I’m going to tell them – my constituency – to call me, do you want the state income tax or don’t you want the state income tax?
And boy the phone rang, and we kept track of every single person who called me. And 84% of the people said, no. Not just a no, but a – hell no.
Leahy: I was going to say there’s a lot of different adjectives that can be added to that no.
Black: That’s what I knew, that I was going to have to be a scrapping gal to serve in the state legislature.
Leahy: Have you told that story before publicly?
Black: Yeah, I have.
Leahy: See, I had not heard it, but it sounds very much like the idealistic young state legislator confronting the reality of public duplicity and corruption. Doctor David Black, you wanted to add something?
Dr. Black: She’s pretty spunky (Laughter) during campaigns at all. I served in the Marines. I know what Marines are. I would tell folks my wife is compassionate, she’s a nurse, but she has the metal of a Marine.
And so she could stand her ground when she needs to stand her ground. And she began standing her ground in politics almost from day one.
Leahy: So this would have been in the spring of 1999 just after you came in.
Black: Right after I was sworn in.
Leahy: So your head must have been spinning?
Black: I couldn’t understand it. And it was really very disillusioned to me that the governor would campaign with me on that issue and then turn around and threaten me by not doing what he wanted me to do.
Leahy: Did you at any time feel like you were isolated and alone? Or did other members of the state legislature immediately jump in and say, I’m not doing that either?
Black: Of course, at that point in time I was brand new. Didn’t know anyone. And I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be alone or not. And some of my colleagues that had been in the Legislative Plaza for a long time said, oh, gosh, you can’t talk to the governor like that.
You’ll never get anything for your district. And I said, well, it looks like I’m not going to get that road that everybody was waiting for. And yet it started as a snowball, and it just kept rolling.
And the more the people heard about what he wanted to do, the more calls I was getting to say, stay strong, stand strong. And then we found others who were standing strong. And that’s how we got to be the Killer B’s. Marsha Blackburn.
Leahy: Marsha Blackburn, Mae Beavers, Diane Black. The Killer Bees! Don’t mess with the killer bees because they are principled and they’re going to go against a state income tax.
When I wrote my book, Covenant of Liberty, The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement, I have a chapter that starts out with the Tennessee tax revolt that you led as part of the Killer B’s.
And, of course, you know, Ben Cunningham, good friend. Ben was involved in that. And then talk radio hosts here in town went downtown to the state capitol and said, we got to stop this! And the people came.
And did you think that the people would come? People drove their cars. They drove around the state capitol, honking their horns. This was 1999, 2000. A lot of people here weren’t living in Tennessee at that time. Just recreate that scene for a moment, if you would, Diane Black.
Black: It was crazy the way people turned out. When they knew that we were going to rally downstairs downtown at the capitol, we would have people come. And they would start early in the morning, like 7:00 a.m.
And they would surround that capitol until dark and sometimes after dark. And our poor secretaries were saying, please stop this, because they had to sit next to the window where they heard that noise all day long.
Leahy: Horn honking!
Black: It was wonderful. (Laughter)
Leahy: You talk about human agency. You talk about populist Conservatives, Americans being able to change history. That was an opportunity. And that was a time when regular Americans change history.
And by the way, I want to thank you on behalf of every resident of Tennessee. You and Marsha Blackburn, Mae Beavers, and all the people that honked their horns, for stopping the state income tax. Tennessee’s grown like crazy as a result.
– – –