Ken Yager

Lawmakers contemplate 8-week break to legislative session

The doors of the state Capitol were closed to the public on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A series of secret meetings were being held in the closed-door Cordell Hull Building on Monday to determine how the General Assembly should proceed amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reporters got Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Ken Yager (R-Kingston) to shed some light on what was discussed among members. Here’s a transcript of what he had to say:

Ken Yager: The urgency of the situation dictated prompt action, so we just decided to talk to a few folks.

Q: What did you tell them?

KY: I just told them that we recognize the need to comply with the CDC guidelines, which have eight weeks. We’re looking at doing that. We’re tying to stay in compliance with the CDC guidelines. It’s important for us to follow the same guidelines that we’re asking other people to do…. We’re just trying to get word out to everybody, some of the members as they’re coming in.

This week we’ll focus on mission critical bills that we need to pass. We’ll let the speakers announce the rest of that.

Q: Is it being contemplated to pass a temporary budget and then recess while awaiting developments?

KY: I’ve not heard the word temporary mentioned. I think mission critical – there’s a discussion about whether we’re going to adjourn or recess. And if you adjourn, you pass a budget. If we recess to a date certain, then we certainly have the opportunity to continue to work on the budget during that recess.

Q: Why the sudden urgency when last week everything seemed fine?

KY: This issue is an evolving issue. And I think that we’ve had a chance to look at it. I’ll speak for myself, I think I’ve had a chance to talk to my local professionals and to review these guidelines with greater scrutiny after our discussions last week. And I’ve just drawn the conclusion, as my colleagues have, that we need to stay in compliance with what the CDC is asking, and set the example.

Q: How to you decide what’s mission critical? There’s a lot of key legislation that people care very deeply about still hanging out there. Does everything go by the wayside other than the budget?

KY: Those things that are mission critical, those are the things that we’ll keep. The budget, and those things that keep the state running that we have to do.

Johnson elected Senate majority leader, Yager wins caucus chairmanship

Senate Republicans have elected Jack Johnson of Franklin as majority leader and Ken Yager of Kingston as Republican caucus chairman. Sen. Randy McNally was unopposed for another term as speaker.

Johnson defeated Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville, while Yager won on the first ballot against Sens. Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville and Brian Kelsey of Germantown.

The majority leader position was vacated by former Sen. Mark Norris of Collierville, who has become a federal judge in Memphis. The caucus chairmanship was open because former Sen. Bill Ketron was elected Rutherford County mayor.

The next scramble will be over who replaces Johnson as chairman of the Commerce Committee and Yager as chairman of the State and Local Government Committee.

Here’s a statement from Speaker McNally:

Jack Johnson will be an outstanding Senate Majority Leader. He has the experience, temperament and policy expertise to lead our caucus and the Senate to new heights. Jack has been intimately involved in the progress we have made as a state. Beginning with his transformation of the Government Operations Committee to his strong leadership on the Commerce Committee, Jack has put conservative ideas into action on behalf of the people of Tennessee. As we embark on a new era in Tennessee state government, Jack’s leadership will be critical. Congratulations, Leader Johnson.

Ken Yager has the depth of skill and breadth of experience to excel as chairman of our Senate Republican Caucus. As a county executive and chairman of the Senate State and Local Committee, he has demonstrated an ability to lead under pressure. Our caucus has achieved much success both in policy and in politics. I expect that success to continue under Ken Yager’s leadership. Congratulations, Chairman Yager.

The Senate is fortunate to have a membership full of capable and talented leaders. I am confident the team we have elected today will work together with Governor Lee and the state House to keep Tennessee the best state in the nation in which to live, work and raise a family.