NASHVILLE - Rep. Judd Matheny, who earlier this year considered challenging House Speaker Beth Harwell for the chamber's top post, lost his re-election bid for the No. 2 slot Monday in House Republican Caucus elections.
Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, defeated Matheny, R-Tullahoma, as Matheny sought a second term as speaker pro tempore.
The vote was conducted by secret ballot, and Matheny left before the meeting concluded and avoided speaking to reporters.
Harwell was elected without opposition as was House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and other top GOP leaders.
Last summer, Matheny announced he was weighing a challenge against Harwell for the speakership, saying, "I don't believe some of the members of leadership have fully taken advantage of [his leadership skills] or fully allowed me to be the most I can be."
He said he felt hampered by Harwell and other top leaders in pushing controversial legislation that included a bill requiring employers to let workers store their guns in vehicles parking on company property against their bosses' wishes.
Another bill Matheny pushed would have outlawed provisions of Islamic codes, known as Shariah law. The bill, which drew national news coverage, prompted protests from Muslims who feared it would have interfered with their central beliefs such as praying five times daily. A stripped down version dealing with terrorism but making no mention of Islam eventually passed.
In his speech to GOP Caucus members, Johnson said, "We have challenges that we're going to be faced with. We all need to pull together, we should all remember that our caucus tent is big enough to have differences and constructive criticism. We all need to work together."
Matheny said he was "proud of the job" he'd done over the past two years and added he provided help to colleagues who sought it. He said his strength was in "logistics" and bringing different sides together.
"I also want to work with the speaker and leadership to help redefine the position," he said of the speaker pro tem post. "It is a position that has the confidence of the entire body. Therefore I think it needs additional responsibility."
He said the speaker pro tem could do more to coordinate with the GOP-controlled Senate and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam "to make sure what we're doing is the correct thing."
He said there were other things he wanted to do to make the job a "frontline position and not just a lazy backwater" post.
Johnson previously has said he began exploring a race for the speaker pro tem position after Matheny said he was interested in challenging Harwell. He told a reporter Monday that he got such a positive response that he decided to pursue the post despite Matheny's decision not to run against Harwell and run again for speaker pro tem.
Asked later why other leaders went unchallenged while Matheny lost, Harwell told reporters "it shows first and foremost we have a very united caucus. There's not the dissension that some might think within our caucus," she said. "I think we have a great leadership team in place."
The speaker and speaker pro tem positions will be elected by the full 99-member House in January. Democrats have only 28 members, and there is one independent, so Republicans are expected to make Harwell speaker again and elect Johnson to the No. 2 position.
Meanwhile, Rep. Glen Casada, of Franklin, was elected without opposition to the vacant GOP caucus chairman slot.
Assistant Republican Leader Kevin Brooks, of Cleveland, was unopposed as well.
Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, chose not to seek re-election to the Republican floor leader post, and Rep. Vance Dennis was unopposed in his election to succeed him.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550.