By Richard Locker, Memphis Commercial Appeal
November 4, 2010

NASHVILLE — Republicans wasted no time asserting their new power in the state Capitol, vowing Wednesday to move ahead with a  pro-business agenda.

Tennessee voters handed the GOP an astonishing 14-seat gain in the state House of Representatives and turned out veteran Democratic Sen. Doug Jackson for a one-seat GOP gain in the Senate.

A razor-thin 50-48-1 Republican edge in the House turned into a strong 64-34 majority, plus independent Kent Williams.

The former 19-14 Republican majority in the Senate is now 20-13.

It’s the first time since Reconstruction that both the legislative and executive branches are under GOP control in Tennessee. And Shelby County historian Ed Williams, a Republican who served in the state House from 1970 to 1978, said it’s the largest GOP majority ever.

House GOP Caucus chairman Glen Casada of Franklin told reporters, “The people of Tennessee decided they wanted 64 Republicans (in the House) making laws and setting the budget and I think you’ll find our Republicans very willing to do what the people of Tennessee want them to do.

“I think you will see us focused on ways to grow the economy — how do we get out of the way of business, how do we let the entrepreneurial spirit thrive.”

Although Gov.-elect Bill Haslam said he doesn’t want the state’s prekindergarten program cut, Casada said “everything is on the table (but) I know of no movement at this point to delete pre-K.”

Casada said he doesn’t expect much legislation to remove restrictions on guns, although gun-rights activists have said they plan to push for fewer restrictions on where handgun-carry permit holders may legally carry.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said the GOP’s increased power means “less game playing, less partisanship and I hope more open government and less foot-dragging and delay. We have a mandate here to lead and to govern and that’s what we need to do,” he told the politics website TNReport.com.

The big GOP majorities also mean:

Republicans will have a free hand in redrawing district lines for the legislature and the nine congressional districts for the 2012 through 2020 elections.

There will be a new House speaker. Although Republican-turned-independent Williams won re-election to his House seat, he won’t run for re-election for a second term as speaker and instead endorsed Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville. Casada is also likely to run.

There may be pressure on the handful of rural Democratic lawmakers left to switch parties or face another round of serious challenges in two years.

Conservative interest groups also declared victory.

Tennessee Right to Life’s executive director, Brian Harris, said “clear pro-life majorities have been elected … to pass” the second stage of a push to remove abortion rights from the Tennessee Constitution. Ten years ago, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled the state Constitution has an even stronger right to privacy, and abortion, than the U.S. Constitution.

Anti-abortion activists want the next legislature to pass a resolution by the two-third majorities required to put the issue up for a statewide ratification vote in 2014.

“After years of being stonewalled by pro-abortion leaders, the voices of Tennessee’s pro-life majorities are at last being heard,” Harris said.

The National Federation of Independent Business said Tuesday’s elections were “a big win for small business.”

NFIB state director Jim Brown said, “We’re looking forward to working with the Haslam administration and the 107th General Assembly to addresses our members’ concerns, such as unemployment and workers’ comp fraud and abuse, as well as ensuring fair tax treatment.”

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