NASHVILLE - In a surprising twist, House Democrats threw their support behind a Republican lawmaker for speaker and defeated attempts by House Republican Majority Leader Jason Mumpower, R-Bristol, to become speaker.
The 49 Democrats joined with GOP Rep. Kent Williams, R-Butler, in the vote for speaker, providing the razor-thin 50-49 margin to make Rep. Williams the state House's first Republican speaker since 1971.
Frustrated by their inability to gain enough support for longtime House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, Democrats employed what they referred to as the "nuclear option" in throwing support behind another Republican candidate.
The new House Speaker helped Democrats re-elect Memphis Democrat Lois DeBerry as Speaker Pro Tem, the number two position in the chamber by a 50-49 vote.
Earlier, when Speaker Williams was elected, pandemonium and boos erupted from Republicans and their supporters.
GOP reaction was swift.
"Kent Williams has betrayed his constituents and the people of Carter County in breaking his pledge - his signed oath - to vote for the nominee of the Republican caucus for Speaker of the House," said Robin Smith, chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party.
"He lied, in a quest for personal power, in league with Democrat Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and House Minority Leader Gary Odom, in their desire to retain power despite the results of the 2008 elections."
Speaker Williams said he heard expletives being used by fellow Republicans. He said he still considers himself a Republican and emphasized that he would be fair to Republicans and Democrats. He predicted that history will show that this will be a "great thing" for the state.
When state Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, approached the new Speaker, Rep. Williams warned him that if he used "the f-word," he would be thrown out.
Rep. McCormick responded by telling the new Speaker that he is a "disgrace to the state. You are a disgrace to the state."
Rep. McCormick denied using foul language to the Speaker Williams earlier.