By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Thursday replaced the chairwoman of the powerful judiciary committee with a key ally, while some opponents of a proposal to allow wine sales in grocery stores lauded committee assignments in the lower chamber.
Ramsey removed Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet as the head of the judiciary committee, replacing her with Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown. All three are Republicans.
Beavers said her efforts to ramp up accountability for judges may have had a role in her losing her leadership post.
“You’ll have to ask the speaker about that,” she told The Associated Press. “I think a lot of the judges really objected to us redoing their ethics.”
Ramsey denied that the move was in response to pressure from judges or anyone else.
“We wanted to take a different direction,” he said. “And I think Brian Kelsey is a bright young man that will do well on there.”
Kelsey said he was honored to be selected, but deferred to Ramsey on why Beavers was ousted.
Kelsey’s leadership aspirations as a member of the state House were derailed in 2009 when it became public that he had offered to cease criticizing then-Speaker Kent Williams in return for the chamber’s judiciary chairmanship.
Williams, who refused Kelsey’s offer, had drawn the ire of fellow Republicans for banding together with Democrats to be elected speaker, and was later ejected from the GOP for the maneuver. Kelsey was elected to the Senate later that year.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Beth Harwell’s reformulation of committees in the lower chamber included breaking up the former State and Local Government Committee, which had killed previous wine-in-grocery-stores bills.
The appointments to the state government panel — and specifically to its subcommittee — gave hope to opponents of the latest wine proposal that has appeared to gather steam in recent weeks.
The six-member subcommittee incudes two likely opponents of the measure and one lawmaker who routinely abstains on alcohol bills. Bills need a majority vote to advance out of subcommittees.
“Look at the list — it ain’t getting through,” said independent Rep. Kent Williams of Elizabethton, a vocal opponent of changing the current law and a member of the subcommittee.
Harwell, a supporter of undoing the state law limiting wine sales to liquor stores, said the decision over which committee hears the bill depends on how it’s drafted.
She said a measure including a local referendum on whether to allow supermarket wine sales would instead be heard by the new local government committee, where it might have a better chance.
“I’ve made quite clear my stand on the bill. I think it should come out,” she told the AP. “If you put it in the form of a referendum, people have a right to decide over issue.
“It’s been dragging on long enough.”