Live from Music Row Tuesday 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 Senator (R) Mike Bell in studio to discuss his position on a vote for Ford Motor company coming to West Tennessee and economic incentives for the state.
Leahy: In studio with the Mayor of Maury County Andy Ogles and retiring State Senator Mike Bell. Mike, when you made the surprise announcement yesterday that you would not be running for reelection in 2022, what kind of reaction have you gotten to this?
Bell: Goodness. I’ve literally received hundreds of text messages, phone calls, Facebook messages of people telling me everything from congratulations to I’m going to miss you. And I don’t know how to explain it.
But it makes you feel good to know that there are some people out there who believe that you made an impact, that you made it done a good job.
Leahy: Now, speaking of doing a good job, there are other political offices out there Mike Bell. Oh, I don’t know. There are state-level offices there are congressional offices. Will you, in the future, consider the possibility of running for another political office?
Bell: I know you should never say never, but no, I’m never going to run again. (Laughter)
Leahy: Hold on!
Bell: That’s right.
Leahy: Get that tape. (Bell chuckles) We will play that perhaps someday in the future. Now, I wanted to give you a hard time.
Leahy: About one bill that went through the state legislature like a political stampede.
Bell: I think it was a very bad bill, but very few people agreed with me on this. This is the $884 financial incentive given to Ford Motor Company in the second special session this year. You’re in the state Senate?
In the state House, the vote was like 96 to three in favor of it in the state Senate. The vote was, I think, 29 to four in favor of it. Against it, Janice Bowling, Joey Hensley, Mark Pody, and Kerry Roberts. You were in the majority.
You were one of the 29 people who voted yes for it. I look at it, and I look at this as more like a pretty significant giveaway to a Fortune 500 company that as soon as they got the money, decided to try and tell us what to do with COVID-19. That didn’t sit well with me. Why did you vote in favor of this Ford bill?
Bell: Sure. I actually spoke in favor of this bill on the floor. And of course, all those sessions are archived. If somebody wants to go back and they can watch what I said. But I stood up and what I did is I opened up the state website for economic community development, and I sat there and read from four or five pages all the counties that have received projects where they got economic incentives.
And there were numerous counties, and almost all of them were from Middle and East Tennessee. Wilson, Williamson, Maury, Blount County, Anderson County, Bradley County, one of my counties.
And I just read one after the other. Literally about a dozen, maybe 15. And then I stopped and I asked the members in the Senate. I said, what did you not hear out of that list?
I said you didn’t hear a single West Tennessee County and West Tennessee especially rural West Tennessee, for whatever reason, I don’t blame anybody, the economic boom that has hit the rest of the state affects my area.
I know it affects Mayor Ogles’s area, and all around Nashville has escaped those people in West Tennessee. Was it a perfect bill? Was it something that I could sit down and look and find fault with? I absolutely could.
There’s rarely, ever a perfect piece of legislation you vote for. But when I look at an area of the state that is economically depressed, that is losing people, and we’re seeing that redistricting this year, those West Tennessee senators are going to have districts that could take three hours to drive across, and it’s because they’re losing people.
I looked at an opportunity for us to put what will be an economic engine in this area of rural West Tennessee that has been bypassed by the prosperity that the rest of us have enjoyed. Fault me for that.
And again, there are some things in that that I didn’t like. But sometimes it’s almost like a legal standard of the preponderance of the evidence. It was the preponderance of the evidence versus a clear condensing versus without a shadow of a doubt the proponents of the evidence was this bill will be a good deal, and this bill will have a positive impact on Tennessee and especially in rural West Tennessee.
Leahy: Is it the proper role of the state government to give away Tennessee taxpayer money to Fortune 500 companies?
Bell: That’s a question that we were talking briefly about a little while ago that I wish there was a way we could stop this war that we’ve been involved in. When I say we, the States in general.
Leahy: States are competing against us to give money away to woke Fortune 500 companies that as soon as they receive the money, they want to tell the state to be more woke like them. Didn’t Ford just do that?
Ogles: That’s right.
Leahy: That’s not exactly what I would call gratitude.
Bell: Yes, I agree. I can’t defend that. But at the same time, even though they went to that level, we’ve given economic incentives to Beretta and Smith and Wesson. I’m thankful for the gun manufacturers in our state, but I wish we hadn’t had to give them economic incentives to get here.
Leahy: What about this broad question? My view is don’t give any corporation a financial incentive. Let them come and go based upon the quality of Tennessee.
That’s my view. It would seem to me that that would be a view that would resonate with you. But there’s a problem with that. What is the problem that you see?
Bell: I guess it would be like being in a battle, but refusing to use the weapons that other states are using. Not that you necessarily wouldn’t have weapons, but using weapons that other states wouldn’t have.
Because if we got out of the business again, at some point, maybe a group of states could get together and form a coalition inside.
They’re not going to continue to participate in this war of economic incentives. But as long as it’s going on, if we get out of it, we’ll be the only state out of it.
Leahy: Yeah, that doesn’t bother me at all. But then again, I’m not in the Tennessee General Assembly. I’m just a guy on the radio. (Bell laughs)
Ogles: Maury County, we’re really on most metrics number one in the state. Now we’ve been a recipient of economic incentive dollars, and I support it. Let me be clear. I supported the mega site.
In fact, there was a group of mayors, primarily West Tennessee mayors, but Middle Tennessee mayors as well and we joined the coalition to drive the governor and the ECD to not give up, to find the right deal. I think some of the questions are just the scope.
Leahy: Yeah. Exactly. Mike Bell, what a delight to have you in studio. And both, I think for all of our listeners, thank you for 15 years of outstanding service in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Bell: I appreciate it. Thanks.
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