Born and reared “in a very rural area of Pennsylvania,” Speaker Beth Harwell explained how she became a Tennessean.
“At the age of 16 my parents sent me to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend David Lipscomb University. And I fell in love with Tennessee and the South and I have never left,” said Harwell, Speaker of Tennessee General Assembly’s House of Representatives [R-Dist. 56, including Davidson County], during a campaign stop in Farragut in her bid to be elected governor.
It took place among numerous Town of Farragut and Knox County GOP elected officials — roughly 50 total attendees — in First Baptist Concord Chapel Tuesday evening, Oct. 24, capping a day-long visit.
Watching the Watergate hearings on television when she was a teenager, “I really got engaged with the legislative process,” Harwell said. “… It was really a changing point for me.”
A teacher at Belmont University in Nashville “for four years full time,” Harwell said, “During this period the seat that I currently hold in the state legislature came open.
“And I thought, ‘boy it’s time for me to see if I can put a little of this book knowledge to some practical use,’” she added about losing, by 31 votes, before winning the seat.
Though it is common to rotate on and off committees, “There is one committee I never rotated off of, and that was education,” Harwell said. “Even from the beginning of my time in public service, I realized the key to transforming our state is really going to be in our education system.”
A former chair of the state Republican Party for four years, Harwell recalled when first becoming Speaker about asking each representative to put any proposed legislation through three litmus test questions: “does it increase the size of government? … Does it make it easier to own and operate a business? … Does it continue to move us forward in education reform?”
The opioid epidemic “is without a doubt one of the biggest problems our state is facing,” Harwell said.
“We have put in place a database so that a pharmacist, doctors [and] law enforcement people can check and see who has these pills. We’ve limited the number of prescriptions that can be given out at one time,” she added. “This coming session I think we’re going to look the amount of partial refills.”
Harwell also said those who
are imprisoned for drug possession should be rehabilitated instead — noting rehabilitation is much cheaper for the taxpayer.
Listing points of pride as speaker, “We balance our budget every single year,” Harwell said.
Yet, “We are the third lowest taxed state in the nation, and we are the lowest taxed state in the Southeast. … And we are the lowest debt state in the nation.” she added.
About the state’s AAA bond rating, “We’re one of 11 states in the nation that enjoys that status,” Harwell said.
“When I came in as speaker, we reformed our unemployment and worker compensation laws making us a much more fair legal environment from which businesses can flourish,” she added.
“I know it’s paying off. We have the lowest unemployment rate we’ve ever had in our state.”
Harwell and husband, Sam Harwell, have three children.