Republicans Take Control

In a big story that has gotten little local coverage, republicans have taken control of both the Tennessee House and Senate for the first time since 1871. Many republicans give credit for the take over to the opposition of Barack Hussein Obama which helped turn out record numbers of republican voters.

On a local level, most of us might never notice any big differences to the change of power on the state level save one issue. The State Election Commission. The state election commission is controlled by which ever party controls the state house which means that the commission has been controlled by the democrats for many years. This in turns means that local election commissions have been staffed by majority of democrats who in turn most often will appoint a democrat as the local election commissioner. This may all change now that republicans have taken control.

In Loudon County, the five member election commission is comprised of three democrats and two republicans. The democrats are Betty Brown, J. C. Almond and Sue Jane Hartsook. Republican members are Kay Brooks and Ken Brewster. The balance of power in Loudon County will change which could in turn bring a change of the election commissioner, Dana Zehner.

Zehner who was at the time chairman of the Loudon County Democratic Party, was appointed to the post after long time election commissioner Pat Ingram retired. Ingram had held the position for 27 years. Zehner took office April 1st 2004. It is not yet known if Zehner will be replaced.

TN GOP ready for political shake-up

Party appears united; power shift opens door for many law changes

By Tom Humphrey

NASHVILLE - Despite past differences, the Legislature's Republicans now appear united to assure that last week's historic election victories translate into a wholesale shake-up of Tennessee's political power base.

The shift in control of the state House to Republicans and solidifying of the GOP's Senate strength also will open the door to multiple changes in state law, ranging from greater rights for gun owners to stronger restrictions on abortion.

There also may be ramifications on such policy matters as selection of judges and school superintendents, expansion of charter schools and damages awarded in lawsuits.

But first the Republicans have to stand together and avoid party defections such as occurred in 2005, when the GOP had a majority in the Senate after the 2004 elections but still saw Democrat John Wilder re-elected as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor.

The election gave Republicans a narrow 50-49 advantage in the House, where Democrats previously had a 53-46 lead. In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats each had 16 seats before the election, with one Independent senator. Now the GOP has a 19-14 majority.

Not since 1869 have Republicans had control of both the House and Senate in Tennessee. The National Conference of State Legislatures said the GOP seizure of control in Tennessee's House was "the biggest surprise of this election cycle."

Two years ago, seven Republicans voted to re-elect Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, and six of them are still members of the House.

With a shaky 50-49 advantage, even one defection could allow the re-election of Naifeh as speaker, and he reportedly has sought Republican votes with help from some fellow Democrats.

It appears the efforts have been unsuccessful.

Rep. Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton, was one of the past Naifeh supporters and perhaps had more reason to break ranks with fellow Republicans than anyone. Some Republican colleagues openly backed his opponent in the August primary and sharply criticized him.

But Williams said Friday that, while differences remain, he will back the election of Republican Jason Mumpower of Bristol as House speaker this time.

"I love Speaker Naifeh. He's been a wonderful friend," said Williams. "But times have changed. At a time like this, we (Republicans) need to stick together."

Naifeh did not respond to requests for an interview last week. He did issue a statement saying, "House Democrats will continue to lead the way, and I intend to lead."

Mumpower, who currently serves as House Republican leader and was highly active in offering campaign help to GOP candidates, apparently will have no opposition within party ranks to being elected House speaker.

At one point last week, Rep. Beth Harwell, a former state GOP chairwoman, indicated an interest in opposing Mumpower's election as speaker.

She later abandoned the idea, and Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parker's Crossroads, a former Republican leader who was mentioned as a prospective Mumpower opponent, said through a spokeswoman that he is not interested.

With Mumpower as House speaker and Ron Ramsey as Senate speaker, there would also be a major geographic shift of state political power to upper East Tennessee from West Tennessee, home of Naifeh, Wilder and previous Democratic legislative leaders.

Once the leadership is decided by legislators at the outset of the legislative session on Jan. 13, election of constitutional officers will be the next order of business. Both Mumpower and Ramsey say they will push to have Republicans replace the Democrats who now serve as state comptroller, secretary of state and state treasurer.

Several candidates are mentioned as potential successors to Comptroller John Morgan, Treasurer Dale Sims and Secretary of State Riley Darnell. The officials have multiple responsibilities in running state government.

They also serve, by virtue of holding the office, on multiple state boards and commissions. The State Building Commission, which has authority over all state property and oversees all construction, has six members - the three constitutional officers, the speaker of the House, the speaker of the Senate and the state finance commissioner.

Currently, Ramsey is the only Republican on the Building Commission. In January, Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz, appointed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, will be the only Democrat.

Mumpower and Ramsey acknowledge that Morgan and Sims have shown considerable skill in handling the complexities of their jobs but say they have shown unacceptable overt partisanship by helping Democratic campaigns.

"That crossed the line," Ramsey said.

Another change in power is automatic under state law when control of the Legislature changes. The State Election Commission and all 95 county election commissions have five members with three seats held by the majority party in the Legislature and two by the minority party.

There are now 69 Republican legislators - 19 senators and 50 representatives - versus 63 Democrats; all election commissions will shift to having a 3-2 Republican majority instead of a 3-2 Democratic majority.

The House and Senate speakers have great influence on legislation, because they appoint committees and name their chairs, then decide which committee will deal with a given bill. In the Senate, Ramsey has give Republicans control over all committees but has named Democratic chairs.

Naifeh has been roundly and regularly criticized by Republicans for refusing to name any Republicans as key committee officers.

Mumpower declined to say last week whether he will turn the tables and refuse to name any Democrats to committee chairs, but many expect him to follow Ramsey's example - allow Democrats to hold a few prestigious positions but assure that Republicans have the numbers to control the voting.

Once the committee assignments are settled, the Legislature will turn to lawmaking under the new structure.

That will mean obvious changes on some social issues that have been pushed by Republicans successfully in the Senate but killed in Democrat-dominated House subcommittees.

A looming state revenue shortfall of perhaps $600 million in the current year will almost certainly block any significant new spending initiatives or tax cuts promoted by the GOP. But that may mean more attention to issues that do not involve money.

In the last legislative session, major examples were efforts to restrict abortion rights, including a proposed amendment to the state constitution, and to let handgun permit holders take their weapons into more places - bars and state parks, for example. With some exceptions, Republicans backed the bills and Democrats opposed.

Ramsey has led a Republican push for major changes in the state system of selecting judges, and the partisan power shift, combined with other factors, may increase the prospects of that happening - perhaps even the election of Supreme Court judges in contested elections.

School superintendents are currently chosen by school boards. Bills to allow them to be popularly elected have won bipartisan support but generally were killed in House committees with Democratic majorities.

Similarly, the path now could be clear for:

n More charter schools in Tennessee. Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, notes that the state now has the most stringent standards in the nation for opening a charter school.

n Limits on the amount of damages that can be awarded in lawsuits against doctors, nursing homes, hospitals and others. Republicans generally have supported "tort reform," while Democrats have opposed the proposals and killed them in the House.

n Requiring a driver's license or other government-issued photo identification to vote, a proposal previously passed in the Republican-controlled Senate but failing in the Democrat-controlled House.