Every two years, at the start of each legislature, the House of Representatives and Senate elect those who will lead the body through the next two years.  In the House, that leader has been Speaker Jimmy Naifeh for the past 18 years. 

After last November’s elections, it looked like that was not to be due to the fact that the balance of power had shifted from democrat to republican.  The republicans now have a 50-49 majority of House members.

Tuesday, the House convened the first session of the 106th General Assembly at noon.  The first order of business was to administer the oath of office to everyone assembled.  The next order was to elect a speaker.  The republicans were the first to make the nomination of Jason Mumpower of Bristol.  Next, Democratic Leader Gary Odom of Nashville was recognized for purposes of making a nomination. 

In an unexpected move, he nominated republican House Member Kent Williams of Carter County as the democrats’ choice for speaker.  A roll call vote was then called for democrats first, republicans next.  All 49 democrats voted for Williams.  As the republican members then casted their votes, all were voting for Mumpower as the clerk was approaching the end of the alphabet.  The vote was 49 for Williams and 49 for Mumpower as the clerk called out the name of the last republican, Kent Williams.  Williams then voted for himself and was immediately sworn in as Speaker of the House.

Williams, 59, was elected to House District 4 in 2006.  He is a farmer and owns a restaurant in Elizabethton.   

The next order of business was to then elect a Speaker Pro Tempore.  Long-time Speaker Pro Tempore democrat Lois DeBerry was nominated and republican Beth Harwell was nominated as well.  Again, that vote was along party lines with Williams voting for DeBerry insuring her win.

In the Senate, there was not as much drama.  First term republican Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey of Blountville was reelected to that position by a 19-14 vote.  Two years ago, Ramsey beat long-time Lieutenant Governor John Wilder by one vote when democrat Rosalind Kurita broke party ranks and voted for Ramsey.


The next order of business for the General Assembly was, per the Tennessee State Constitution, to elect the constitutional officers in a joint session.  Today, at 10:30am, the gavel went down calling all representatives and senators into a joint session in the House Chamber.

Democrats Riley Darnell (Secretary of State), John Morgan (Comptroller), and Dale Sims (Treasurer) have held those respective offices for quite some time.  All three had republican opposition today.  The opposition candidates were chosen Monday in a meeting of House and Senate republicans.  Prior to that, republicans accepted applications for each office and screened each applicant.

The first office to be filled was Secretary of State.  The democrats nominated incumbent Riley Darnell, who has held that office since 1993, and the republicans nominated former House Republican Leader and Tennessee Regulatory Chairman Tre Hargett.  Hargett was elected with voting mostly along party lines.

For Comptroller, republican attorney and former Sundquist administration official Justin Wilson defeated incumbent John Morgan with voting, again, along party lines.  Morgan was elected in 1999.

For Treasurer, republican attorney and member of the Shelby County Commission David Lillard defeated Dale Sims who has held that office since 2003.

Both the House and Senate have adjourned until Monday, February 9.

Jay West
Executive Director
County Officials Association of Tennessee