Could Sen. Bo Watson become new Senate finance committee leader?

Could Sen. Bo Watson become new Senate finance committee leader?

January 11th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

NASHVILLE — Now that the Tennessee Senate's long-standing finance chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, has just been elected Senate speaker, who will the new speaker name as the new chairman of perhaps the chamber's most powerful committee?

Many Republicans and Democrats believe Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, now the panel's first vice chairman, could be a logical choice for McNally.

McNally himself isn't saying for now, but it should become known by week's end as the newly convened 110th General Assembly concludes its organizational session and adjourns until Jan. 30. Speakers usually announce committee assignments and leadership at the end of the organizational session.

Watson doesn't deny having interest in the chairmanship, but he said the decision is obviously McNally's, and if the new speaker wants someone else, so be it.

"I am the first vice chairman of finance committee, so I would hope that the speaker will consider that when he begins naming committee chairmen," said Watson, who served in the House for one term before getting elected to the Senate in 2006. "But that's not my job. My job is to serve the Senate and serve the Senate in whatever capacity he asks me to do."

For the past decade, Watson has worked side by side with McNally on the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee, learning from him and from McNally's predecessor, former Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, the committee's longtime chairman until Republicans took power in 2007.

In addition to Watson's role as the Senate's first vice chairman — there's a second vice chairman, as well — Watson has served as Ramsey's speaker pro tempore. While largely a ceremonial position — the pro tem fills in at the podium in the speaker's absence — Watson also has performed other important functions for Ramsey such as head of bill review for GOP Caucus members.

While in Nashville, Watson and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, for several years roomed with Ramsey in a rented apartment near the state Capitol.

Now that Ramsey is gone, Watson and Bell have a new roomie.

Speaker McNally.

As a reporter teased Watson about how McNally would break the news to his roommate that he was naming someone else as finance chairman, the Hixson lawmaker protested.

"No, in all honesty, I think he understands the institution of the Senate greater than I value my own success," Watson said. "And so if the speaker believes it's better for me to serve the Senate somewhere else, then I will do that. Because the institution is larger than any single individual. That's not politics. That's truly how I feel about the Senate."

If asked to serve in another role, "I'm happy to do that," Watson added. "But I think I've been a good vice chair for the Senate finance committee for a number of years. And if that's where I'm supposed to be, that's where I'll be."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.