Proud of Tennessee’s fiscal condition with a consecutive surplus, low unemployment rate and cut in taxes, Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, wants to continue the momentum as he runs for re-election in the 23rd District.
Seeking his fourth term, Johnson could also soon take the highest seat in the Senate as Majority Leader if re-elected to serve the 23rd District. Current Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, is expected to resign his seat after being confirmed last week as a federal judge in West Tennessee, following an appointment by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Johnson‘s peer, Rep. Glen Casada, R-Thompson’s Station, is also running for another top spot in the state legislature – House Speaker. If both are re-elected and win their party nominations, Williamson County could be poised to house two of the most powerful leaders in the state legislature, not to mention the seat for governor (Bill Lee-R) and U.S. Senate (Marsha Blackburn-R) could also be claimed by Williamson County residents.
However, Johnson, like Casada, said one step at a time as both vie to reclaim their seats in the Nov. 6 election. Early voting commenced Wednesday and will continue until Nov. 1.
On the ballot, Johnson faces Democratic challenger Kristen Grimm, health care advocate, Franklin mother and long-time Franklin resident.
Over the years, Johnson has seen the passage of major legislation during his tenure, including the recent IMPROVE Act, which included a gas tax increase in 2017, the rollback of the Hall tax and even a consecutive budget surplus over the past several years, plus cuts in food and business taxes.
Tennessee in good place
As a result, Johnson said he is most proud of Tennessee’s economic growth over the past 12 years he has served in the legislature, citing that Tennessee holds the lowest unemployment rate in state history, that Williamson County is a top job creator in the nation and that tax cuts benefit businesses and individuals.
“The fiscal condition of Tennessee is the best it’s ever been,” Johnson said.
“We are the lowest indebted state in the nation. We are the lowest taxed as percentage of per capita income. We are approaching $1 billion in our savings account. Our pension plan, where a lot of states get in trouble, is one of the most actuarially sound.”
Johnson attributed the pensions to “our mutual friend” Charles Sargent, “who we are really going to miss in the House,” Johnson said recently on WAKM 950 AM hometown radio Meet the Candidates series. Sargent served for 22 years in the legislature and for eight years as the Chairman of the Finance Way and Means Committee before announcing his retirement last year.
However, one issue in which he and his opponent differ is health care. Grimm believes in expanding Medicaid funds, while Johnson voted against the measure in the legislature years ago as chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
Although Grimm stands firm in her support of the expansion of Medicaid, Johnson said Tennessee should not expand “a broken system.”
“We want all Tennesseans to have access to affordable, quality care. The difference is how you get there,” Johnson said.
“Medicaid, historically is not a great system. In fact, it is a broken system and if you look at health care outcomes for those on Medicaid, they come out worse than the ones who are uninsured. There are not appropriate protections for overuse to keep people from abusing the system, and it further separates the heath care consumer from the product they are trying to get, which is health care, which leads to massive growth inefficiency in the system.”
“I don’t think the answer is to expand a broken system or add people to a broken system.”
However, Johnson praised Gov. Bill Haslam for “doing a Yeoman’s job” in negotiations to get Insure Tennessee passed, which would have provided a safety net for 300,000 uninsured Tennesseans after the state failed to expand Medicaid.
“I support things like health care savings account where you connect the consumer to the product they are trying to purchase, which is health care,” Johnson recently said on WAKM radio.
“It provides TennCare enrollees with an incentive to be wise with their health care dollars. Currently there is not such an incentive. If you think you are sick, you go to the emergency room.”
Johnson further explained that such as pilot program, introduced by Sen. Mark Green and passed by the legislature last session, would provide consumers with a debit-type card to be able to have the opportunity to shop for the best health care.
However, Johnson reminded the WAKM audience that Tennessee will have a new governor and would also have to wait to see how health care would be dictated by the federal government.
“If the government gave us the flexibility as a state, then we could generate enough money to help that population [those in the Medicaid gap].”
He also reminded the audience that former Gov. Phil Bredesen, now a candidate for eh U.S. Senate, took about 200,000 people off TennCare because “it was going to bankrupt the state.”
Johnson said we should learn from past experience.
Traffic needs regional solution
The legislator also addressed traffic as a major issue affecting Williamson County and the state. He explained he supports regional solutions.
“One reason why the [Nashville transit referendum] was defeated, and one of the issues I had with it, was that it was a plan that affected just Davidson County. You need to look more regionally rather than just one community.”
School funding tops
However, Johnson emphasized that the top issue he will address this legislative session is school funding through his sponsorship of a bill to help secure more funding for Williamson County schools.
“The biggest issue is school funding. We are treated unfairly in the Basic Education Plan formula. There is not enough recognition for growth in that formula.”
The Republican caucus will vote on Johnson’s nomination as Senate Majority Leader Dec. 3 if he is reelected to the 23rd District.
When not behind a dais at the state legislature, Johnson, a Texas native, can be seen behind a guitar instead playing with his band, The Austin Brothers, at various GOP events around the community. He began learning guitar from his father when he was 8 years old.
“It is a passion,” he said, just like serving the legislature.