McCormick's exit as Tennessee House majority leader expected to spur GOP power struggle

McCormick's exit as Tennessee House majority leader expected to spur GOP power struggle

September 20th, 2016 by Andy Sher in Local Regional News

State Rep. Gerald McCormick

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

A previous version of this story said that Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick was 56. He's not 56, he is 54.

Gerald McCormick's quotes

@GeraldMcCormick on Durham ouster: "Some things ought to be past politics, and one of them is getting rid of a guy who's a sexual predator"

.@GeraldMcCormick on biz opposing transgender restroom bill: "When they come for their corporate welfare checks ... we need to have a list."

.@GeraldMcCormick on Senate meeting during snow storm: "They can stay up here that week and walk around the halls, collect their per diem."

.@GeraldMcCormick on potential party-switcher Eddie Bass: "I'd rather he'd stay where he is, to tell the truth."

.@GeraldMcCormick after GOP-controlled Georgia Legislature passed resolution to move border with Tennessee: "They're idiots." #tnleg

A red-faced @GeraldMcCormick to Speaker Kent Williams in 2009: "You are a disgrace to this state, pal; you are a disgrace to this state."

All quotes recorded by Erik Schelzig of the AP

NASHVILLE — Six years near the top of the heap is long enough, said Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, who announced Monday he won't seek re-election by fellow Republicans as the chamber's second most powerful figure, a position the local businessman has held since 2011.

Citing accomplishments he and Republicans have made since seizing a working House majority in January 2011, McCormick told fellow GOP caucus members in a letter that he is "incredibly proud of the work of the 'People's House,'" which he said has "confronted extremely difficult issues that were not taken lightly by any of us."

McCormick, who is still running for re-election without opposition to his seat on Nov. 8, said in an interview he intends to continue serving in the 99-member House, where Republicans hold 73 of 99 seats.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick laughs Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016, at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick laughs Tuesday,...

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

The 54-year-old lawmaker's announcement is expected to unleash pent-up ambition in the GOP Caucus and could conceivably trigger a major power struggle among Republicans' sometimes-bitterly divided power factions.

"I am honored to serve the citizens of House District 26 as their Representative in the Tennessee General Assembly and I intend to maintain a strong and intensified commitment to the issues affecting us locally and statewide," McCormick said in his letter to fellow Republican lawmakers.

"I will continue to serve my fellow Caucus members as you see fit, however, I announce today that I do not intend to continue as House Majority Leader in the upcoming session," he said.

McCormick called it "critically important" that those in leadership set good examples for all members.

"Power for the sake of power should not be the ultimate goal of anyone's public service, good governing should," he told fellow Republicans. "As a senior member of the General Assembly, I have always tried to maintain that perspective, and I hope others do the same."

In an emailed statement, Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville said, "Gerald has been an excellent majority leader for the House Republican Caucus, an outstanding partner as we accomplished great things for Tennessee, and a friend.

"Many of the accolades our state has seen recently can be attributed to his hard work on behalf of all Tennesseans," Harwell added. "I have enjoyed working with him in leadership these last six years, and I am grateful for his leadership. I look forward to continuing to work with him."

Efforts to reach House Republican Caucus Chairman Glenn Casada, R-Franklin, were unsuccessful Monday evening. Casada, who six years ago faced Harwell for the top leadership post as Republicans seized control for the first time since 1971, is viewed as a likely contender for majority leader.

GOP Caucus elections will likely occur in late November or early December. With Democrats a decided minority, Republicans will continue to control the spot.

Harwell, meanwhile, is seeking election to a fourth term as speaker, the most powerful post. Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, has already announced he is challenging her in the caucus. The majority leader is generally seen as the House's second most powerful job, carrying his party's agenda and, when the governor is of the same party, pressing the governor's legislative package and working to pass it.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's office had no immediate comment, although McCormick informed the governor of his plans earlier on Monday.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, was surprised to learn of McCormick's plan.

"Gerald's a good guy," Fitzhugh said of McCormick. "He's got a good, level head on him and has done a good job as majority leader."

Fitzhugh noted the GOP Caucus certainly has "some factions in it." He said McCormick has handled that fairly well.

"I'll miss him and I think the state will and, certainly, the caucus will. It'll be an interesting deal. It'll be, I assume, a contest for his spot there, absolutely."

Hamilton County Criminal Court Clerk Vince Dean, who previously served with McCormick in the House, was astonished to learn of the leader's plans, telling a reporter, "You're kidding me."

"I hate to see it," Dean said of McCormick, first elected in 2004 when Democrats still controlled the chamber. "I'm sure the [Republican] caucus will find somebody to step in in his place."

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


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