NASHVILLE — In a move that shakes up Tennessee's 2018 GOP primary race for governor, President Donald Trump announced Thursday he intends to nominate state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, to fill one of two U.S. District Court vacancies in West Tennessee.
Norris had been gearing up for an expected race for governor until mid-spring when the Trump administration began seriously considering him for the vacancy and later began vetting him.
He never officially announced he was running for governor and in recent months had stopped visible activity related to the contest. In the multi-candidate GOP field, he would have been the lone gubernatorial hopeful with a political power base in West Tennessee.
The state senator said in a statement he was honored by the nomination and appreciates the president's confidence in him.
"This is just the first step under the Constitution, and I look forward to the [U.S.] Senate confirmation process," he said.
Meanwhile, Norris said, he will "continue to serve the citizens of the 32nd District who elected me to the Senate and my Senate colleagues who elected me as their Leader."
Calling Norris a "committed legislator," Republican Gov. Bill Haslam said "the entire state is better for his conservative and thoughtful leadership in the Senate."
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said in a news release Thursday afternoon that in addition to Norris' state Senate role, he also has practiced law for more than 30 years working as a litigator in the trial and appellate courts, including the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.
"Tennessee will be well-served by a man of such good character and good temperament, and I look forward to introducing him to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee," Alexander said.
Norris' departure leaves the GOP field with three officially announced candidates — Knoxville businessman and former state Economic Commissioner Randy Boyd, state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and Williamson County businessman Bill Lee.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., and Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell are widely expected to announce bids. On the Democratic side, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean already has announced. Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, is expected to announce his candidacy shortly.
Trump on Thursday also announced he intended to nominate three other attorneys to fill U.S. District Court judgeship vacancies in Middle and West Tennessee.
And he announced his intent to nominate three Georgians to fill vacant judicial seats in Georgia's Northern and Middle Districts.
For the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Trump intends to nominate William M. "Billy" Ray II of Grayson and Michael L. Brown of Atlanta.
The president intends to nominate Tilman E. "Tripp" Self III, of Macon and a state judge, to serve in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.