The Republican-dominated Tennessee General Assembly today effectively chose its leaders for the next session. Though they won’t be official until voted on by the full House and Senate in January, House Speaker Beth Harwell, and Senate Speaker and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey each cruised to another term at the helm via their party’s legislative caucuses.
Ramsey’s re-election was unanimous, but Harwell faced a minor challenge from Rep. Rick Womick, who found 14 other caucus members to stand with him. Womick’s ultimate target in the ill-fated takeover bid wasn’t Harwell, of course, but was instead Gov. Bill Haslam. Womick’s criticism of Harwell was that she served as a mouthpiece for the Haslam administration; whereas, he contended, a House under his speakership would amplify the voice of the electorate who sent conservative members to Nashville, and who oppose the governor’s moderate positions on items like Common Core.
Another increasingly loud critic of Haslam is Rep. Joe Carr, who on Saturday mounted his own conservative-backed challenge, in this case for the chairman spot in the Tennessee Republican Party—with similar results. Carr has taken to Facebook in attacking Haslam. This comes mere days after running for the TNGOP chair as a “unity candidate.”
The style employed by each legislative chamber’s leadership is something to ponder. It can be debated whether Harwell shows enough independence from the governor; but she is often described as fair, intelligent, and deliberate by members of both parties. She does not come across as a firebrand.
Ramsey, an auctioneer by trade, embodies a bolder voice—particularly in online communications and press releases, thanks to his talented and sharp-tongued spokesperson. Given that Ramsey challenged Haslam for the 2010 GOP nomination for governor, it’s unlikely that he’d functionally appear anywhere close to the “puppet” moniker critics have attempted ascribe to Harwell. But even Ramsey stops short of appearing to openly defy Haslam…most of the time.
What would a Womick speakership have looked (and sounded) like? I suppose, for now, the answer is moot.