Live from Music Row Wednesday 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 TN-5 Republican candidate Beth Harwell in-studio to talk about her past legislation and set the record straight on accomplishments for the state of Tennessee.
Leahy: As promised, in the hot seat, Beth Harwell, former Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives and now a candidate for the 5th Congressional District GOP nomination. The election, August 4th, a week from tomorrow. Good morning, Beth.
Harwell: Good morning. Good to be with you all this morning.
Leahy: Crom Carmichael …
Leahy: You’ve known Beth for some time?
Carmichael: I’ve known Beth a very long time.
Leahy: And I guess were you in her district when she was in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Carmichael: I think I was. Yes, I was.
Leahy: And you were first elected when? 1988?
Harwell: That’s correct.
Leahy: And you served in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1988 until, what, 2018?
Harwell: Right, when I left. Yes.
Leahy: You were Speaker from when to when?
Harwell: For the last eight years of my tenure.
Leahy: Now you’re running for Congress.
Leahy: Nine qualified candidates. Three candidates have actually raised some money: you, Andy Ogles, retired Brigadier General Kurt Winstead. We just did a story at The Tennessee Star about all of the outside money coming into this, and by our count, it’s been about $2 million that’s been spent.
Outside money. Club for Growth, other groups, and a lot of it’s been attacking you. Some has been attacking Winstead a little bit, some have been attacking Andy Ogles. We think it’s going to be over $4 million of outside money. And the candidates themselves have spent maybe a million and a half. What’s it feel like to have so much outside money coming into this congressional district race?
Harwell: It doesn’t feel good, and I think it’s actually a shame for democracy that this is taking place. Outside money, you don’t know where it comes from. There’s no transparency.
And honestly, some of the groups that are participating believe in things that I really don’t believe in, such as granting amnesty to those people who are here illegally. AFP stands for that, and I’m opposed to it, and I think when you take money from them you’ve committed yourself.
Leahy: Crom, do you have a question for Beth?
Carmichael: Yes. There have been some charges against you, and I’d like to give you a chance to respond to those. The biggest one, or the longest one, is a vote that you cast, I think, in what, 2001? And this was giving a driving ID, is that correct, to illegal immigrants? And why did you do that and then what did you do later?
Harwell: I appreciate that question because the ad is completely misleading. Completely. The piece of legislation, I went back and read the entire bill. Nowhere in the bill does it use the word illegal alien or undocumented immigrant.
That was not even in the bill. So it couldn’t do what they said on the TV ad. What the bill did do, and this is coming from the transcripts that were actually used that day, and on the House floor, the intention of this bill was that “properly legal immigrants who come to this country to attain a driver’s license or certificate in the state of Tennessee.”
And so this bill came from law enforcement. We didn’t design this, law enforcement brought it to the General Assembly saying these people are here legally. And because they don’t have Social Security numbers, they’re working in our fields, they’re doing lawn care.
They’re here for a period of time. We want to make sure that they can pass the Tennessee driver’s license test, they know the rules of the road, and we can require them to carry car insurance.
That was the purpose of the bill. We passed it with conservative votes that day on the House floor. That was 21 years ago. I’m so glad that my record is so good they have to go back 21 years to find something. (Leahy laughs)
But at any rate, we passed it. There was a group of refugee not-for-profit organizations that thought perhaps there was a way to help some people that were illegally here to get a driver’s license.
When we heard a rumor of that – there was no documentation that anyone tried to even attempt to get a driver’s license that was here illegally – but when we heard a rumor of that, the very next legislative session, we came in and repealed the entire act.
Leahy: So it sounds then when you hear this, that that particular attack on you – this is what, from the Club for Growth guys that are doing it? These are the guys that opposed Donald Trump in 2016.
Leahy: It sounds like they’ve kind of twisted the truth on that.
Harwell: Absolutely they did.
Leahy: By the way, those of you not in here, Beth is pretty steady. But I can see that that ad, really because of the way it’s presented, as you say, in a false light, makes you very irritated about it.
Harwell: It does. It’s distorting a record, and that’s misleading the public. And hopefully, you men will vouch for me that I don’t look near as bad as I do on that ad. Could you vouch for me on that?
Carmichael: (Laughter) Yes.
Leahy: That’s an old trick. Let’s take the worst possible photo …
Harwell: and Photoshop it a little bit.
Leahy: I can promise you, if I were to ever run for political office – which I won’t, by the way, because I’m a sane person – but if I were, they would come in here in the studio at 5:05 in the morning and take a picture of me. Nobody wants to see that. And so that’s the technique. They’re trying to demonize Beth Harwell.
Harwell: That’s an example of dark money coming into a political campaign.
Carmichael: Now, as Speaker, you passed a lot of legislation that is truly meaningful for the state. Which are the ones that you think have affected the state and the Nashville area the most?
Harwell: Without a doubt, when I came in as Speaker, I had a clear agenda of what I wanted to accomplish those years I was there. And the number one thing I wanted to do was completely phase out the Hall income tax so that we could truly say we were an income tax-free state.
And we did it in a fiscally responsible manner. And it’s surprising how many people will come up to me now and say, we’re able to retire here in Tennessee instead of moving to Florida. We can stay where our doctor is and where our grandchildren are. And that was the goal.
The second thing I wanted to do was I wanted to eliminate the death tax and the gift tax in the state of Tennessee. You shouldn’t be taxed twice – once in your life and then as you’re passing away. And you can say, well, that only helps the wealthy. Well, you’re wrong. I mean, when I was in Maury County, I had at least three farmers come up to me and say, I can now pass my farm on to the next generation without having to sell land in order to pay my taxes, my gift and property taxes.
So those were the greatest accomplishments. I’ll tell you, there’s a reason why people are flooding to Tennessee to live. We created an environment where businesses can flourish. We lowered the franchise and excise tax so that we’re competitive with states around us. And it doesn’t come by accident. We really put effort into creating a tax structure that was fair.
Listen to the interview:
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