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Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell

NASHVILLE - A pair of Southeast Tennessee Republicans is in the cross-hairs along with state House Speaker Beth Harwell in upcoming leadership elections.

Harwell, seeking her third term as House speaker, is facing attacks from the far right of her party from Rep. Rick Womick.

Rep. Kevin Brooks, of Cleveland, is trying to hold on to his position as House assistant majority leader, and Rep. Cameron Sexton, of Crossville, hopes to hang as majority whip.

Womick, of Rockvale in Rutherford County, has heavy weapons on his side: The head of the Tennessee Firearms Association is calling on his members to "demand" GOP legislators back Womick in his challenge to Harwell.

"Conservatives must take action now to help define the leadership of the Tennessee General Assembly for the next 2 years," Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris wrote in an email. "It is URGENT that you contact your House Members now to ask them to vote for Rep. Rick Womick for House Speaker to lead the real conservative revolution in Tennessee."

Harris said that over the past four years "conservatives have been denied conservative leadership in the General Assembly."

As a result, he said, "many 'campaign promises' of the so-called 'conservatives' have been knowingly broken" in areas ranging from failure to repeal Common Core education standards to "repealing all infringements on your rights as required by the 2nd Amendment and the Tennessee Constitution."

"[W]e only have seen promises made and kept to Big Business and the Chamber of Commerce," wrote Harris, who has fought with business groups over gun-carry issues.

"Sadly," Harris added, "many may believe that Beth Harwell serves one main purpose as Speaker - that is to defend and protect the agenda of people like [Republican Gov.] Bill Haslam and even those like [U.S. Sen.] Lamar Alexander. That must change for Tennessee's House Members to fully honor their oaths of office."

Harwell's office last week had no comment.

Womick has attacked Harwell for what he said is her failure in August primaries to protect tea party-aligned conservatives from Haslam. He accuses Haslam and his chief of staff, Mark Cate, of orchestrating an effort to unseat five conservatives in the GOP primary.

Harwell, Womick argues, doesn't see "her position as a Speaker under the authority of the caucus. Instead she has displayed a total disregard for the House's majority position on several issues, with Common Core state standards being the most controversial, and ultimately projecting the full power of her office in support for the governor's failed education policies."

The GOP Caucus election is Dec. 10. Republicans in the fall elections boosted their 71-member supermajority to 73 seats in the 99-member chamber. Lobbyists have already lightheartedly dubbed it the "super-duper" majority.

The two next most powerful leaders under Harwell - House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, R-Franklin - are not being challenged. Nor is Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville.

But Brooks is being challenged by Rep. Jeremy Faison, of Cosby, and Sexton faces Rep. Jeremy Durham, of Franklin.

Faison said he'd like to move up in leadership and personally likes Brooks. But he said he thinks more should be done to bring GOP members together.

"Anybody who's up there at the Capitol can see there are some fractures in our caucus, especially as large as it is," Faison said. "And I feel like we need individuals on leadership who can get along with everybody. And there's no one in my caucus that I'm not personal friends with."

Faison said there "are people on the caucus leadership team - and I'm not saying it's Kevin - that don't talk to everybody. I talk to everybody in the Capitol, from the janitor to the governor. That's the way I'll be on the leadership team. I'd like to be the glue that kind of pulls us all together."

Efforts to reach Brooks on Friday were unsuccessful.

Durham said he is seeking the GOP whip post because the Republicans put the whip, who tries to keep Republicans together on floor votes, in charge of legislative campaigns.

"The chair of the Caucus campaign committee is always our whip," Durham said. "I just have a passion for helping my colleagues get re-elected, so that's why I decided to run."

Sexton also could not be reached for comment Friday.

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

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