By Richard Locker of The Commercial Appeal
March 21, 2016

NASHVILLE — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said Monday he’s trying to put together an agreement among Senate Republicans in which Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge will succeed Sen. Ron Ramsey as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor, at least for the next two years.

Under Norris’ scenario, the Senate Republican Caucus would agree soon for a McNally “transitional” speakership of two to four years — 2017 to 2019 or 2021 — rather than waiting until after the November elections to select a successor to Ramsey. The traditional timetable would be to settle the issue in the caucus after the November election but Norris said an agreement soon would avoid a divisive “distraction” in this year’s legislative elections.

McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said Friday he’s running for the speakership. Ramsey, R-Blountville, announced Wednesday that he won’t run for re-election to the Senate this year. He remains speaker until the full Senate selects his replacement when the 110th General Assembly convenes next January — although the de-facto vote will occur within the Senate Republican Caucus, which has a 28-5 “super-majority” over Democrats.

First elected in 1978, McNally is the longest-serving current member of the entire legislature.

Norris’ remarks Monday mean that two of the five senators considered likely to succeed Ramsey are now backing McNally. Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, said last week that if McNally is running, he will support him.

Norris agreed: “Sen. McNally has a storied career and reputation here, he’s the dean of our senate in terms of time served and steady at the helm.”

Norris said he’s “made a lot of calls” on behalf of a McNally speakership.

Ramsey, who has been speaker for 10 years, seemed to support at least the idea behind Norris’s plan for McNally as a consensus candidate, without saying so explicitly.

“I want to stay out of this. I don’t get a vote. But Randy McNally has been here for 38 years and he won’t be here much longer. I’ve had several members talk to me about that and I can see why people might think that Randy should be the one,” Ramsey said.

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