Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick told Downtown Kiwanis Club members on Tuesday that within the state legislature, Republicans and Democrats "work very well together on a bipartisan basis."
He said, "We wish they would do that a little better in Washington. I think things would work a lot better up there if they'd do it the way we do in Tennessee."
Born in Jackson, Tn., Rep. McCormick has served as the Majority Leader since 2010. A graduate of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, he also served in the military during the Gulf War.
He said part of his job is not only negotiating between parties, but also negotiating between urban and rural factions of the population.
Rep. McCormick gave the example of the issue of rooster fighting, currently a misdemeanor offense in Tennessee.
He said in urban areas, people pushed for this to become a felony. However, many more rural areas were strongly against this change in legislation.
Overall though, he said with the help of Governor Bill Haslam, "We make the government work at the state level."
Rep. McCormick said, "We have balanced the budget every year in the state of Tennessee."
In fact, he told the Kiwanis Club, the state of Tennessee currently has a higher bond rating than the federal government.
He said, "Being fiscally responsible keeps our taxes low." He said since he has been in the House, legislation had been passed that cut taxes on investments while money has still been put back for a "rainy day fund."
He also pointed out that the House had been a part of tort reform in Tennessee, helping to reduce "trivial lawsuits."
Most importantly, he said, reforms to education legislation have been made. He said now there are "more charter schools than ever" and "students' scores have gone up faster than any other students' scores in America."
He also told the club, "We've passed legislation giving the local school boards more control over teacher compensation."
Other important legislative actions of the House included passing laws to curtail methamphetamine production in Tennessee. He said before the state limited the amount of pseudoephedrine-containing medications that could be purchased over the counter, Tennessee was second only to Missouri in meth production.
He said, "We literally had people going from pharmacy to pharmacy." After laws were passed, a prescription was required in order for any one person to purchase more than a certain amount of pseudoephedrine.
However, he said, "Pharmaceutical companies fought this bill hard...They were irresponsible and needed to be called out on it."
Though progress has been made, he said, "We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of challenges ahead of us."
He said some of those challenges include an increasing problem with prescription drug abuse, prison overcrowding, and aging infrastructure.
In terms of preparing more of the population for the workforce, Rep. McCormick said Governor Haslam has created a program called "Drive to 55," aimed at getting 55 percent of the state population to hold a post secondary degree. Currently, that number is at 32 percent.
A recent bill passed called the Tennessee Promise will use extra money from the lottery fund to mentor students who might otherwise see college or technical school as unrealistic. With the help of a mentor, students will be able to explore job options and navigate complicated forms such as FAFSA.
Rep. McCormick said, "Overall, I'm trying to help lead the state...on both sides of the aisle."