Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey won't seek re-election

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, answers questions at the Tennessee Press Association convention on Jan. 28 in Nashville.

Quotes about TN Senate Speaker Ramsey

"I will truly miss working with him on a daily basis. Ron is smart and effective, and he has been passionate about serving Tennessee and his district." - Republican Gov. Bill Haslam "He often says that it matters who governs, and indeed it does. Tennessee has had a great leader in Ron Ramsey. I know he will enjoy being able to spend more time with Sindy and with his precious grandchildren. I wish him the very best." - House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville "There is no stronger leader or more effective legislator than Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. While he may be stepping aside next year, I hope and fully expect to see him active in Tennessee's public life in the coming years." - U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "His role as a pioneering Republican ranks him with Senator Howard Baker, Senator Bill Brock and Governor Winfield Dunn in building our party to its present state of supermajority status. His decision to go home and spend more time with his family shows he has not lost his perspective on what is really important in life." - House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga "He leaves an incredible legacy of reform that will be hard for anyone to match. The Tennessee Republican Party would not have reached its supermajority status without our Lieutenant Governor's clear vision, guidance, and support." - State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes "Thank you Ron Ramsey for your service, your leadership, and your friendship. Tennessee is a better place because of you." - National Republican Senate Committee Executive Director Ward Baker "His retirement marks the end of a great era. Under his leadership, we not only gained the majority, but Tennessee has flourished in so many important ways. He demonstrated that 'it matters who governs.' I'm glad for his friendship and everything he has done to make Tennessee a better place." - Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville "Ron Ramsey is a true statesman and, really, a role model on authenticity in public life. We would all also be lucky to have even a portion of the blessings that Ramsey has had." - Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris "Ron Ramsey went from being a junior member of the minority party in the House to leader of a supermajority in the state Senate in his 20 years in the General Assembly. That's a testament to how strong a leader he has been." - Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro "His legacy will be long remembered. He not only brought us a majority, but a super majority and defined his motto. It matters who governs." - Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro - STAFF, WIRE REPORTS

NASHVILLE - Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who led his party out of the political wilderness to wrest Senate control from Democrats and became the second most powerful official in Tennessee government, is calling it quits.

In a sometimes emotional announcement from the Senate floor Wednesday, the 60-year-old auctioneer and Realtor said he will not seek re-election this year from the Northeast Tennessee Senate district he has held for 20 years.

"It has been the honor of my life to serve here," Ramsey, who also holds the title of lieutenant governor, said in his address. "We have accomplished great things together. We have left Tennessee better than we found it.

"But lately," he added, "it seems like life is flying by. After a lot of prayer and many sleepless nights, I have determined that I simply cannot commit to another four years in office."

Ramsey, of Blountville in Sullivan County, said he intends to spend more time with his family, including his four grandchildren and a fifth grandchild expected to be born this week.

He informed Republican Gov. Bill Haslam of his decision Tuesday, a Senate aide said.

The speaker, who served four years in the House before his election to the Senate, has been a towering force on Tennessee's Capitol Hill, and his support or opposition to Haslam policies could mean success or failure.

He was first elected speaker in 2007 after a failed 2005 attempt when, despite the GOP's new-but-slim majority, two members of a new GOP majority stuck with long-serving Democratic Speaker John Wilder of Somerville.

In 2007, one Republican stayed with Wilder but a Democrat backed Ramsey, making him Tennessee's first GOP speaker since Reconstruction.

Ramsey's announcement stunned most on Tennessee's Capitol Hill on Wednesday. And it will trigger a succession battle for the top Senate position.

One lobbyist said it could become a "bloody" fight as would-be successors vie for the post and various GOP factions and possibly even regional loyalties come into play.

Among those whose names are being bandied about are Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, a close and trusted friend of the speaker, whom Ramsey appointed to the post.

Also mentioned are Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collerville; Senate Commerce Chairman Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and Finance Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.

Asked whether he would run, Watson demurred, saying Ramsey is "still speaker. He's still speaker until we adjourn."

Norris told reporters, "I want to make sure there's a smooth transition and a continuation of strong leadership. I'm thinking about it, sure, but Ron Ramsey is the lieutenant governor and speaker until he's not."

McNally, like Watson, said he preferred to talk about Ramsey and not a potential bid to replace him. But some Republicans are quietly talking up McNally as a potential candidate who might serve as a transitional figure and serve one two-year term as speaker.

Senate Republicans now hold a "super majority" of 28 members in the 33-member chamber, and Ramsey and his fundraising ability have gotten credit for helping House Republicans take firm control of the lower chamber in 2010.

"We now have super majorities in both chambers," said Watson, who noted that while Ramsey has a "down-home style of leadership where he can be very folksy, at the same time there's no question that he's in charge."

In 2014, the speaker took on the five-member Tennessee Supreme Court and made huge independent expenditures in an effort to defeat the panel's three Democrats. Haslam and Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell did not join him.

The Democrats survived, but they did two things Ramsey wanted. They didn't reappoint Democrat Bob Cooper as state attorney general. And Justice Gary Wade, a Democrat, announced he was stepping down, leading to Haslam appointing a Republican and giving the GOP its first majority on the court since at least Reconstruction.

"Ron's been an amazing leader in the Senate," said Watson, who rooms with Ramsey when they are in Nashville when the Legislature is in session. "No one can question that.

"He's always told the caucus don't get too far from your overalls. In other words, don't think you're more important than you are, don't get too far from your constituents who sent you here. Sometimes your overalls are just calling you home.

"To use his metaphor," Watson said of the speaker, "his overalls are calling him home."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or asher@timesfreepress.com.