Lt. Gov. McNally Talks State Politics, Fiscal Responsibility with College Republicans


Donald Hall, Managing Director

“It’s better to try and work out problems and better to remain civil,” was Tennessee Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally’s response to the question about how working across the political aisle at the state level is different from national politics. McNally spoke with Vanderbilt College Republicans on Tuesday evening for over an hour, choosing to take audience questions and engage with students for the vast majority of that time. 

McNally, a Republican from Oak Ridge, Tenn., has been a state senator since 1987 and began serving as lieutenant governor in 2017. In the late 1980s, he played a pivotal role in Operation Rocky Top, which uncovered a web of bribery and conspiracy surrounding the legislature, specifically where the interests of bingo operations in the state were concerned. More recently, McNally was instrumental in the productivity of the final Extraordinary Legislative Session of 2021, which saw laws passed limiting government abilities to issue COVID-related mandates, barring private businesses from requiring proof of COVID vaccination, vesting authority to issue quarantine orders in only the Tennessee Department of Health commissioner, and other restraints on government power. Surprisingly, these topics were rarely mentioned during the event.

From the outset of his time at the podium, McNally focused on the responsible budgetary and financial actions of the state government as being one of its strongest characteristics. To prove this point, he further cited U.S. News and World Report’s rating of Tennessee as the most long-term financially stable state in the nation. He credited the state’s stable pension fund, lack of road-related debt, 1.5 billion dollar rainy-day fund, and low taxes as ensuring a business-friendly environment. Current law also requires all bills introduced to the state legislature to carry a note on the fiscal impact it would have if passed, which he said could be similarly used at the national level to reduce the national debt. The students in attendance seemed very receptive to these points and continued to ask questions related to state finance throughout the event.

The lieutenant governor also answered a question about what being a Republican meant to him, to which he replied that it meant believing the least government possible is best, and governance should be relied on at the local level first, with state and national coming only after. Additionally, he posited that government should ensure that good jobs are available for citizens, while hard work and study are meritocratically rewarded.   

 When asked whether the state could do anything to further deter the type of sexual assaults which the Vanderbilt community saw a spate of in the last week, McNally simply pointed to stiffer sentences for offenders and a crackdown on drugs, which he sees as the driving factor behind many crimes. He also noted that this was of particular concern for him since a member of his family currently attends graduate school at Vanderbilt. 

The longtime legislator was asked for his thoughts on numerous other topics, including moving some of the state’s pension investments into cryptocurrency, the legalization of recreational or medicinal marijuana use, and term limits for members of the General Assembly. He expressed negative opinions of all these, though he recognized that many Republicans in Tennessee support such measures. McNally did, however, express support for voter I.D. laws and a controlled substance database, the latter of which the former pharmacist believed would help to limit the increasing use of fentanyl in the state.

College Republicans President Shane Mumma told Vanderbilt Political Review that he thought Tuesday’s event went very well. He highlighted Lieutenant Governor McNally’s willingness to speak on a wide range of topics and engage directly with students saying, “I know several attendees really enjoyed speaking with him personally after the event, with one telling me that the lieutenant governor agreed to an interview for his HOD leadership project.” When asked what he hoped students gained from the event, Mumma noted “I hope the attendees took away from the event a stronger interest in politics and conservatism after a fun night with Tennessee’s lieutenant governor.”

Image Credit: Photo courtesy of VCR President Shane Mumma