NASHVILLE -- House Speaker Kent Williams and Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, say reports that the Chattanooga lawmaker sought to boot the speaker out of a closed-door House Republican Caucus meeting on Tuesday are untrue.
But Rep. McCormick, the House GOP's assistant leader, on Wednesday did acknowledge asking the speaker, who has had his differences with fellow Republicans, to "sit down and wait his turn" to address the group.
The GOP Caucus was meeting Tuesday to discuss the budget and was talking about a bonded indebtedness issue when the incident occurred, lawmakers said.
Rep. McCormick said when the group meets, a list is kept of members wishing to speak. House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower, of Bristol, first sought to keep the order of speakers in line, observers said.
"Well, Kent didn't like something he heard and he hopped up and just started blurting his message out of (the) line," Rep. McCormick said, downplaying the incident. "And I asked him to sit down and wait his turn. And he took umbrage to that, shouting something at me across the room."
The Chattanooga lawmaker said he walked over to hear what the speaker had to say "and that was about it, really. He apologized to me afterward."
Rep. Williams, an Elizabethton Republican who angered the entire caucus when he let Democrats elect him speaker in January, downplayed the episode. He said matters are "always intense in the Republican Caucus meeting."
"Me and McCormick are great friends, and anytime we have words, it's for three minutes and we kiss and make up," said Rep. Williams. "I don't want to stir anything up."
House Republicans over the past two years have reversed previous positions and barred reporters from attending most caucus meetings.
Citing unnamed sources, The Nashville Post online news site reported that Rep. McCormick demanded Rep. Williams leave. The speaker then replied, "Make me," according to the report.
As Rep. McCormick kept moving toward the speaker, the Post reported, Rep. Williams referred to Rep. McCormick as "fat boy."
In an interview with the Times Free Press, Rep. Williams declined to say whether he had called Rep. McCormick "fat boy." He later told the Knoxville News Sentinel "we were seriously playing around. We're buddies."
Chuckling, Rep. McCormick said told the Times Free Press, "he called me something having to do with fat. If I'd really heard him I probably would have gotten mad at that point."
On Monday, Rep. McCormick told the Pachyderm Club in Chattanooga that it was "irresponsible" of Democrats to elect Williams as speaker.
"He did not know his way around (the Legislature), but he has tried to work hard," Rep. McCormick said.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...