Tennessee House, Senate Nominations
NASHVILLE — State House Speaker Beth Harwell turned back a tough challenge Thursday, winning re-nomination in the Republican Caucus by a 40-30 vote over Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City.
Meanwhile, Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, bested Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, by 42-29 in a fierce contest for majority leader.
The vote may have turned on Casada's speech denouncing an anonymous hard-right blog that posted a video of him in a restaurant with a young woman.
Before the vote, Casada told the 74-member caucus the selectively shot video didn't show there were nine other people at the gathering. The young woman was the girlfriend of a House staffer who was sitting beside her, Casada and others said.
He said the video was an effort to "sabotage" his election by trying to deceive lawmakers and others, destroy his reputation and wreck his marriage by implying untruthfully that he had been unfaithful to his wife.
"These are outrageous tactics," charged Casada.
He added that if elected "I will expose these people. Help me stop this."
Carter later denounced the video, calling it beyond the pale.
An attorney and former Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge, Carter said he "absolutely did not" have anything to do with the video posted on the Rocky Top Politics blog, which often attacks Republicans it disagrees with. The list includes Harwell and Gov. Bill Haslam.
"It was as big a shock to me as it was to him," Carter said of the video. "It was a gross distraction. It was unfair to Glen and it was offensive to all of us."
Casada and Carter were vying to replace Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, as majority leader, the No. 2 post in the chamber after speaker.
McCormick said he believes that instead of hurting Casada, the House GOP Caucus chairman, the video sealed the election for him.
"I've known Mike Carter for over 20 years and I would bet my house he was not involved in it," McCormick said.
"I think you had some other people or groups involved in it. I don't know who they are, but I think the caucus resented that at the last second, their coming in and basically trying to affect our caucus election," he said.
"And I think it played to Glen's favor," McCormick added. "I think it boomeranged the other way and that's what the caucus said."
Also Thursday, another Southeast Tennessean, Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, lost a bid to replace Casada as caucus chairman. Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, won 47 votes to Brook's 23.
With McCormick's departure and Carter's and Brooks' losses, Southeast Tennessee and all of East Tennessee no longer have any representatives in top House leadership.
Because Republicans control 74 seats to Democrats' 25 in the House, Harwell's election to a fourth term as speaker is a virtual certainty.
In the Senate, majority Republicans' elections proceeded smoothly.
Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge was nominated as speaker, a position he is guaranteed to win given the GOP's 28-5 dominance over Democrats in the upper chamber. The position carries the title of lieutenant governor.
First elected to the Senate in 1986 after serving four years in the House, McNally is set to succeed Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who became the first Republican speaker since post-Civil War Reconstruction days.
McNally was elected without opposition and is expected to be elected on Jan. 10 when the 110th General Assembly convenes.
McNally said he doesn't see the Senate changing dramatically under his tenure.
"I think the track [Lt.] Gov. Ramsey laid out is an excellent one to follow. You know, I'm not looking towards a lot of changes," he said.
Remaining top Senate officers were re-elected by acclamation. They include Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, and GOP Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.