As One Leader Leaves And Another Weighs Her Future, Tennessee Lawmakers Start A New Session

Jan 10, 2017

Nashville Republican Beth Harwell won a fourth term as speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, and Oak Ridge Sen. Randy McNally was elected speaker of the state Senate in a start to the 110th General Assembly that went as expected.

Harwell unanimously won re-election, as Republicans and Democrats aligned behind her. That's even though her previous term had been rocky. Harwell had opposed Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to expand Medicaid, known as Insure Tennessee, and she'd been criticized for her handling of sexual harassment complaints against Franklin Republican Jeremy Durham. Durham was eventually ousted in September.

Harwell was asked immediately afterward about her next race — including the possibility that she'll run for governor in 2018. She says she's not ready to make that decision.

"We barely get through one election till we worry about the next election, and I think people kind of want a little break from this," she told reporters. "I think there will be plenty of time to make a proper decision."

One Republican, Clarksville Senator Mark Green, has already declared his intention to run for governor. Other potential candidates include Congressman Diane Black and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd. He announced this week that he intends to leave state government soon — an indicator he may be preparing a run.

Possible Democrats include former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, businessman Bill Freeman and West Tennessee lawmaker Craig Fitzhugh.

Tribute Paid To Ramsey

It was also the final day of work for the outgoing Senate speaker, Ron Ramsey. The Blountville Republican opted not to run for re-election.

Ramsey says he hasn't rethought his decision to retire after a decade as speaker and nearly a quarter century as a lawmaker. Still, handing over the gavel brought him to tears.

"I don't regret what I'm doing, but after you've been here for 24 years, you look around and see the friends you have in the chamber, all 33 members were very close friends of mine and the fact that stage of my life is coming to an end, obviously it's a little emotional, yes."

Ramsey says he plans to focus on his East Tennessee auction business and spending time with family. He will be coming back to the statehouse from time to time as a political consultant, but Ramsey says he won't ever run again for office.

He describes McNally, who's been in the state Senate four decades, as one of his closest friends and advisers during his tenure as speaker.

Ramsey led the effort to elevate McNally to the post, and he says he was the logical choice to take over.