Tennessee legislature opens; speakers re-elected

On January 8, 2013, in News 2013, by Mark Norris

Harwell, Ramsey re-elected speakers

By Richard Locker, CommercialAppeal.com
January 8, 2013

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee legislature opened its two-year term Tuesday by re-electing House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville as the legislature’s presiding officers.

Harwell won election to a second term as speaker with the votes of all 99 House members, including the 28 Democrats. Ramsey won a fourth term by defeating Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis 28-3, including the votes of two of the Senate’s seven Democrats, Sens. Reginald Tate of Memphis and Charlotte Burks of Cookeville.

The 108th General Assembly convened with its largest freshman class in years, 31 members of the 132. The 99-member House has 23 new members — 18 Republicans and five Democrats — and the Senate has eight, all Republicans. Two of the eight new senators moved over from the House in the November elections. Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade administered the oath of office to all 99 House members, and Associate Justice William Koch swore in the 16 senators from even-numbered districts who were elected in November. The other 17 Senate members are in the middle of four-year terms.

It’s also the first time Republicans have ruled both chambers with a “supermajority” — more than two-thirds of the membership and the ability to adopt rules and pass bills without Democratic votes — since Reconstruction. Republicans hold a 26-7 majority in the Senate and 70-28-1 (one independent) in the House.

In the Senate, Kyle asked to amend the Senate’s rules to require that Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act apply to the chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, asked Kyle to delay the request until the Rules Committee can consider it. With Norris’ assurance that the committee will consider it, Kyle delayed his request.

The House approved, at least temporarily, new rules for the chamber that Harwell recommended to streamline the House’s operations. “In adopting new rules for this body, you will reflect the desire of Tennesseans to see the legislature operate more efficiently. They will require us to work collaboratively,” she said.

Ramsey struck a more partisan tone in his opening remarks to the Senate. “I have often said it matters who governs. I look forward to proving that statement true once again as we continue to ensure that the resounding call from November — less spending, more jobs, smaller government — forever echoes in these hallways,” he said.

He also contrasted the state legislature with the U.S. Congress: “As our federal government teeters on the edge of a fiscal cliff, Tennessee’s feet stand planted firmly on sound fiscal principles. Tennessee is an oasis of fiscal sanity in a nation overwhelmed with debt.”

The House also elected, without opposition, a new speaker pro tem: Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville.

Tuesday’s session was over in an hour. The legislature will continue organizing itself Wednesday and Thursday, with the re-election of Secretary of State Tre Hargett, State Treasurer David Lillard and State Comptroller Justin Wilson and the appointment of committees. It will then adjourn until Jan. 28, when the business of legislating begins in earnest.

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