Chairman Susan Lynn draws on financial background in new role

BY KATE COIL

TML Communications Specialist 

When State Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, was selected as the chair of the House Finance, Ways, and Means committee earlier this year, she was both stepping into big shoes and breaking new ground.

Lynn’s predecessor in the role was the late State Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, who led the committee for eight years prior to his retirement in 2018. Lynn is also the first woman to head the 19-member committee in state history.  Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada said he had no reservations about Lynn’s ability to step up to the challenge.

“Representative Lynn is an incredibly talented legislator within our General Assembly, and I am grateful to her for her willingness to serve in this important leadership capacity,” Speaker Casada said. “I believe her knowledge and experience will benefit the House Finance Committee and our entire legislative body.”

In her new role, Lynn also becomes a member of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, Council on Pensions and Insurance, and the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission.  

Born in Philadelphia and raised in New York state, Lynn’s interest in finance goes back to her childhood. She holds a bachelor’s degree double majoring in economics and history and is working on a second one in accounting.  She also holds as certification in financial management, Six Sigma, continuous quality improvement, and LEAN. She presently works as a regulatory compliance manager for Simplicity Creative Group, but has also held roles as a financial analyst consultant, controller, and as a small business consultant.

A mother of two and grandmother of five, she and her husband Michael have been married for more than 35 years. 


TT&C: How did your early life shape you as a person?

Susan Lynn: I was born in Philadelphia then we moved to New York where my father was an investment banker in New York City. My father was a tremendous influence on me. I was very interested in business, so he would talk to me and teach me. We always had The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times in our home, and lots and lots of reading material from different industries or science magazines.  I was always very curious, and he taught me so much about business, free enterprise, and capitalism. I always remember him telling me that the poor countries of the world are poor because of government corruption. They have resources and things that their people can do, but their government prevents capitalism and the market from operating. That stuck with me so much.  My mother was politically active. She always helped elect good people to public office. She always told me never stop paying attention. She said to always have a healthy skepticism for the people who represent them. By and large, we are the greatest country in the world because of our Constitution, because we follow the rule of law, and because we have our checks and balances in balance. 

TT&C: You have a strong background in economics, accounting, and finance. What shaped your career path? 

SL: I wanted to be an architect. I liked to draw and I liked to paint, but my father really influenced me. He thought I could be a writer, but he also encouraged me to go in a financial direction. My father had an accounting degree, but he never worked as an accountant. I always felt accounting was a trade, and I didn’t like that. I wanted something that involved real life as well science and theories that work, that focus on capitalism, and create a good economy.

TT&C: What first brought you to Tennessee?

SL: My mother’s family was from Nashville, so we used to go down to Nashville every Thanksgiving and Easter. I just loved Nashville because it was so different than New York. 

TT&C: How would you describe your district to someone who had never been there?

SL: I would say it’s the most wonderful district in the world. My district is definitely suburban. We are a suburb of Nashville, but we are economically independent of Nashville. We enjoy a healthy, vibrant economy. Our people have such a great community spirit. I am very proud to have a lot of state employees in my district. They are so professional. They do such a great job, and I am proud of our state employees and what they do. I love it when constituents say to me that they called a state department, and they were so very caring. 

TT&C: How would you describe your relationship with the municipal officials in your district? What projects have you worked on with them?

SL: I have a great relationship with the city officials in my district. We are not just professional colleagues; we are actually social friends. We will sometimes go out to dinner together and talk about things that are going on. They have questions about the state that I might be able to help with. I might have questions about something that is going on locally, and I can get background information that fills in the blanks.  I am very cognizant and always tell my city officials that I am not over them; I am not their boss. They are not over me; they are not my boss. Cities are a body politic that is separate from state government, but they have to follow the laws and regulations of state government. Therefore, when we are voting on things, I do call my city officials and ask ‘hey, is this helpful?’ Sometimes they refer me to city employees so I can get an idea of how a bill might affect something.  I remember a few years ago, one of my cities said that they had been applying for a trails grant for a few years, and they could not get a grant. They asked me what it took to get the grant. I suggested we call the department that gives the grant and ask them to take a look at the application, why they haven’t been approved, what may be lacking, and what they can do to improve their application. They did that, saw how they could improve their application for the project, and after that they got one grant after another because they realized what the goal of the grant opportunity was. They just broke ground on a walking trail and are so happy to be working on it now. 

TT&C: What first prompted your interest in politics? Was there a particular issue or cause that drew you into the political arena?

SL: I never thought I would run for office, but I was involved with my local Republican Party. In early 2000, we had that big income tax fight. I lived in Mt. Juliet, and I always felt drawn to go down to the capitol whenever a vote on the income tax was going on so I could be one of the protesters outside. I always felt sort of burdened to do it because I was so close and I had to go for other people in Tennessee who couldn’t go. I went almost every time.  When my predecessor decided to run for higher office, my friends in the Republican Party said ‘you should run.’ And I said, ‘Oh, no. I don’t want to do that.’ Sure enough my husband pushed me that way. I don’t know what they saw. We set up a campaign, and I got more than 103 volunteers in that first race. It was a four-way primary and we got more than 50 percent of the votes. I say ‘we’ because the way I think of it, it’s not you planning a campaign; it’s your team. It’s your team that does all that work and all that effort. It’s the team winning not you. Yes, you’re the lawmaker and the one who goes to Nashville, but it’s very much a team victory. 

TT&C: Your predecessor as chair of the House Finance, Ways, and Means committee was Charles Sargent, a giant of the Legislature. What is it like stepping into this role knowing that you are also stepping into his shoes?

SL: I can’t tell you how much I loved him. I just adored Charles Sargent. He had a lake home in my district, and he would tease me all the time that he was going to run against me. We would talk about Mt. Juliet and their place there. They enjoyed their time there. He was so generous and helpful. He taught me so much about being an effective legislator. He taught me through his words and through his questions, and I could just watch him and see what he did, how he handled the committee. If you had any question you wanted to ask Charles, he would take the time to answer it and even more. He was such a kind and generous person. I know he could get mad, but it was really righteous indignation. When Charles let off that thunder, it didn’t mean he didn’t care about you. Most of the time, it was because he cared about you. He was just a wonderful person.


TT&C: You are also the first woman to be selected to lead the committee. How does it feel to know you are breaking ground for other women in Tennessee politics by taking on this role?

SL: I have to thank Speaker Casada, and I couldn’t be more proud of Speaker Casada. He didn’t bat an eye or think twice about putting a woman in this role. He had approached me a while back and said if all the stars align, here is what I have in mind for you. That was an honor. He’s a great leader. You watch what he does and how he handles people, he is a master. He is nice, he is polite, and he is a peacemaker among people. We have a really peaceful session going on because he is speaker. I am incredibly honored to have this position, succeeding Charles Sargent. I just don’t want to mess things up. Charles put us in such great shape, and I just hope that we do half as well as he did.  I told the whole committee when I took over that we were a team. All of our members serve on other committees, so I gave them direction to see what happened with these bills in other committees then come to finance and share with us the testimony that they heard. We are not going to be able to fund everything; we just can’t. We have to work as hard as we can to make the best decisions we can. I am really big on gathering thoughts and information and creating consensus. I know other members are here representing their districts, and that the people of Tennessee sent them because they feel their input is valuable. I feel their input is valuable. We want to be always mindful and always respectful that this is the people’s money, so we have to look at what are their priorities. We have to bring all those priorities together into the finance committee to produce a budget that has the authority of the people of our state. 


TT&C: What do you think are the major priorities for this year’s budget? 

SL: Clearly, our new governor’s agenda, which is extremely important to all of us. We really believe in it. I feel like Gov. Bill Haslam set our state up so well economically. The things he did were so wise. Gov. Bill Lee thinks very much the same way as Gov. Haslam, but he also has this additional part in him because of his experience for people who have been incarcerated and people with mental illness. He wants to focus on how we can make sure their lives are as full and rewarding as anyone else’s and what we can do to make sure we are providing that. Especially with people who are incarcerated, yes they have made a mistake in their life but they deserve a chance. Things like what we just passed on expungement is going to create a new life for so many people in Tennessee. My daughter works for an employment agency who has a pretty strict policy that if you haven’t gotten that expungement it makes things so difficult.  It’s not that people don’t deserve these expungements; it’s that they can’t afford it, and they can’t afford it because they can’t get a job. It’s a terrible cycle, and our new governor is going to stop that cycle. We have programs for people to get a certificate so they can work hard and provide for their families, and that’s what we all want. I can’t wait to be a few years down the road and see the results of all the seeds that have been planted. 


TT&C: What do you see as the more challenging or divisive issues that have come up in this budget?

SL: I think our committee chairmen have done a good job of only sending bills to the finance committee that are ready to go. I like most of the bills that have been sent to us. The Speaker gave them their role and their direction, and they only send us bills that are of great priority. Unfortunately, we always get more bills than we can fund. That’s the challenge. 


TT&C: What do you think is the economic outlook for the state?

SL: I think our economic outlook will stay stable. We have certainly been in a growth pattern. I feel like the Trump Administration and the Feds are doing a good job at controlling inflation. We saw some for a little bit, but it’s that inflation cycle and credit cycle that gets us in trouble. When credit is too free and available through no-interest loans or no income verification, that’s where we really get in trouble. Unfortunately, people buy things they can’t afford, and we have a collapse. You want people to be able to get loans and to get credit because they have to, but if you make it too available you get into that bust situation and the whole thing flops. It’s important to keep the reins at the right balance. We just hope for stability and not a mad frenzy of spending that leads to a hangover when everything crashes. Our rainy day fund doesn’t fund as much as it sounds like it might. It wouldn’t last as long as we would like it too. We do have a goal of getting to the 8 percent statutory level. Gov. Lee is making a huge contribution to getting us to the goal. He is bringing us to 7.3 percent. Once we get to that 8 percent then we will have another conversation about how much we need to do beyond that. It is a goal that has a rationale behind it. 


TT&C: What do you think is the proper role between the state and federal government?

SL: I wish the federal government would listen to us more and watch how we do things more. I know that my congressman (U.S. Rep. John Rose, R-Tenn.) says he goes to Washington and brags on Tennessee and the Tennessee General Assembly all the time. I believe him because we have a lot to brag on here. Even when the economy was stagnant nationally, the things that Gov. Haslam and our General Assembly were doing helped spur our economy and caused things to grow. We were way outside of the norm, and most states were not having the success we had. As the economy started to turn around, the improving economies in the other states had a big effect on Tennessee. As far as a relationship goes, I wish the federal government would stop fighting. In Tennessee, I feel like we have good relationships with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle. We have friendly relationships. We don’t always agree in committee, but we let it roll off our backs like a duck. Many times when you sit in sessions and listen in on those votes, you see most of the bills we agree on. A lot of times votes are 99-0. We don’t have that many knock-down-drag-out-fights on issues, and even when we do, we are respectful. 


TT&C: What is your stance on pre-emption and local control?

SL: We try not to pass any pre-emptive measures. We try to support local control. However, there are some issues where a local ordinance is going to create an inequity across the state. That is something that is very different, and usually these are things that make it difficult for businesses to follow from town to town. Those are things that are better left to the state than hopscotching around from municipality to municipality. Sometimes, two ordinances that sound the same can actually function very differently when put into practice.  There are some things better left at the state level just like the federal government has their views that there are some things better left to the federal level. There are some federal laws we have to follow whether it’s on employment regulation, Medicaid, or even road funding. You have to have that consistency from state to state to state. It’s the same thing at the state level. There are some things where you just need consistent application of the law from town to town or from county to county. Yes, I have sponsored some bills that pre-empted local governments from doing things, but that was only because I was chair of a business committee where we could see that consistency was needed and required. Other than that, I do find myself chastising my colleagues about certain things. I think last year was a big year where local government was interfered with a lot. We sort of chastised each other and said ‘hey, we aren’t going to do this anymore’ and we’ve held ourselves to that. As far as the budget, there are some things I have left behind the budget that affect local government revenue or expenses. I have kept those behind the budget because we want to take a cumulative total look at the effect of what we are doing before we move ahead on these bills. That is one of the policies I set up in the beginning of the committee. At the end, we are going to take a look and ask if we are overreaching or going too far. If we are, we are going to fix it or that bill won’t happen.


TT&C: Are there any bills or issues before the Legislature this session that are particularly close to your heart?

SL:  This year because I am chair of finance, and it’s a big role for me, I limited my role in sponsoring bills. I did have one bill drafted that deals with hearing aids. A friend of mine moved from here to California for his wife’s job then his wife’s job brought them back to Tennessee. While in California, he got a job selling hearing aids, and he enjoyed it very much. When he moved back to Tennessee, he found he couldn’t sell hearing aids anymore because in order to sell hearing aids in Tennessee you have to have an associate’s degree in something – anything, it doesn’t matter.  He came to me and said when he got out of high school he went into the military and stayed in the army for many years. When he got out, he got a job in sales and that’s what he’s always done. I filed a caption bill and the lobbyist for the association came to me and asked what the bill was about. When I told him he recognized that was a problem and he asked to talk to my constituent. I let them exchange phone numbers and before I knew it, he had brought me a piece of legislation that totally fixed the problem. It was wonderful. I didn’t ask him to help. We ran it past the licensing board who saw it as an issue too that they just hadn’t addressed it.  Now, it says you have to have an associate’s degree or training from an association or national group on hearing aids. My constituent is already studying so that he can get the certification and get licensed in Tennessee. It’s things like that through the state government and at the state level that mean a lot. You have a new law that solves a problem and helps people to work. That’s what we all want: to have a job and be able to come home and take care of our families.