Johnson defeats Bell in Tennessee's state Senate majority leader race

Tennessee state Sen. Jack Johnson

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Senate Republicans on Monday elected Jack Johnson of Franklin over Mike Bell of Riceville as the GOP Caucus' new majority leader in the 111th General Assembly.

Sitting Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, meanwhile, was nominated without opposition to a second two-year term. McNally is expected to re-elected speaker on the Senate floor in January, given that Republicans outnumber Democrats by 27-5 in the upper chamber.

And in the No. 3 leadership race, Sen. Ken Yager of Kingston, was elected Senate Republican Caucus chairman in a three-person race, defeating Sen. Becky Duncan Massey of Knoxville and Rep. Brian Kelsey of Germantown.

photo Mike Bell

Johnson quipped to colleagues following the election that the contest "must go down in record as one of the longest races for majority leader in the state. It's my honor and privilege and I look forward to working with you."

That was a reference to former Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, who was nominated by President Donald Trump for a federal judgeship in West Tennessee back in mid-2017, only to see his confirmation held up for some 18 months by Democrats.

Johnson also thanked Bell, whose district includes McMinn and Bradley counties, on how he conducted himself as they cordially comported themselves. Differences came mostly in terms of leadership style.

Before the vote, Johnson recalled how far Tennessee Republicans have come in just a dozen years. He noted his first vote as a newly elected senator in 2007 was for Repubican Ron Ramsey for speaker with Ramsey beating long-time Democratic Speaker John Wilder and becoming the first Republican speaker since shortly after the Civil War.

"And when you look back, that's just 12 short years ago," Johnson said. "We've really had a front row seat to history, which is pretty remarkable when you think back on it."

Over the past eight to 10 years, Tennessee has been "very successful," Johnson said, "because we've done so many wonderful things. But there's more work to be done. We've done a lot but there's more to be done.

"It's not a time to rest on our laurels," said Johnson, noting that there will be challenges in the future. But he added "we're prepared to meet them."

No vote totals were announced.

Bell, who has pledged as a candidate to let colleagues share in sponsoring important bills, including governor's legislation, later offered his congratulations to Johnson.

"He will be a great leader and I look forward to working with him."

Republicans in Johnson's home county of Williamson now or will soon occupy a good many of the top political spots in Tennessee.

Gov.-elect Bill Lee, who like Johnson is from the city of Franklin, as is the presumed new House speaker, Rep. Glen Casada. The current chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, Jeffrey Bivins, is form Williamson County. And so is U.S. Sen.-elect Marsha Blackburn, who hails from the city of Brentwood in the affluent county south of Nashville.

Lee himself paid an impromptu visit to the Republican Caucus meeting.

Prior to Monday's vote, Johnson said he had had "folks who have committed to vote for me just say, 'Hey Jack that's a lot of power from Williamson County there. You make sure you do the right thing and treat everyone fairly and of course I will."

The five-member Senate Democratic Caucus is exepected to elect its leadership on Tuesday.

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