Race to succeed McCormick as TN House GOP leader could get crowded

State Rep. Gerald McCormick

NASHVILLE - The race among Republicans to succeed Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, could get pretty crowded.

Those already looking or considering running for the House's No. 2 spot include Republican Caucus Chairman Glenn Casada of Franklin, Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, and Health Committee Chairman Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville.

Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, meanwhile, informed Republicans she intends to run and had already been considering challenging McCormick.

McCormick, 54, announced Monday evening he would not seek re-election to a fourth term, citing, among other things, increased responsibilities in his business. He is running to keep his legislative seat in the GOP-controlled House.

Casada, whose caucus chairman role includes helping elect GOP candidates and defending already elected House Republican incumbents, said earlier this week: "Right now, I'm focused on the November election."

Meanwhile, Brooks said he is considering all his options.

The lawmaker, whose job involves public relations and conference management for the Cleveland-based Church of God, said he has gotten "lots of positive feedback."

"As you know, [with] my walk of faith, I'm praying about it" and discussing it with his wife, he said.

Brooks praised McCormick as having served "admirably and with great skill."

Sexton likewise was complimentary of McCormick, saying he had done a great job as majority leader.

"I hate to see him leave that position," he said.

Cameron added that "it's much too early to try to solicit votes or count votes."

"There's plenty of time to make a decision before November," he said.

Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, whose name has been mentioned as a potential replacement, said he had not given any thought to it.

House Republicans already have one leadership race within their caucus. Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, is challenging Republican Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville.

In an email to members Monday night, Butt, the GOP floor leader, made implicitly critical allusions to McCormick and noted she had been thinking for months about running for the post.

"I have known for a long time that we need better communication in every aspect from our Leadership to the Caucus and to the Public," she wrote in her email.

Butt is no stranger to controversy.

In 2015, for example, she was criticized after speaking out in a House floor debate on a bill requiring 48-hour waiting periods for women seeking an abortion.

She has opposed an amendment that sought to add exceptions for rape and incest, charging that it "appears political because we understand that in most instances this is not verifiable."

A Christian motivational speaker and author, Butt also drew fire in 2015 from the Tennessee Legislative Black Caucus and others who demanded she apologize for what black lawmakers called a racist Facebook post and called on her to be removed from her leadership position.

Butt's post said: "It is time for a Council on Christian Relations and an NAAWP in this Country." It stemmed from a comment on a Jan. 26 open letter from the Council on American-Islamic Relations urging potential Republican presidential candidates to reject "Islamophobia" and reach out to American Muslim voters.

Critics say "NAAWP" has been used by white supremacist organizations and stands for the "National Association for the Advancement of White People." However, Butt, who is white, maintained "NAAWP" stands for the "National Association of Advancement for Western Peoples," and said her post had been misinterpreted. It was later deleted.

Meanwhile, Butt ally Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Gray, is seizing his opportunity, telling GOP Caucus members he is running for Butt's current floor leader post.

"For a quick reference," Van Huss says in his email, "Sheila Butt excellently served as our Republican Floor Leader for the last two years. She is not seeking the Republican Floor Leader position this time around."

Casada, meanwhile, said he had been "surprised" that Butt planned to run against McCormick, whom Casada said "did a good job. But, but it's good to have these competitive races, so I wish her the best and I'll make my mind up in about 48 days and then go forward."

McCormick, a businessman, told the Times Free Press earlier this week that his personal work responsibilities have increased dramatically over the past year. That played a pivotal role in his decision not to seek a fourth two-year term as majority leader, McCormick said, noting he also thought it was a good time to hand the post off to someone else.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him via Twitter at @AndySher1.