Tensions between House Republicans are growing as an image circulating among legislators depicts Speaker Beth Harwell as a being a puppet of the House clerk, reports Andrea Zelinski.
The image is one of three that have shown up in legislators’ email boxes in recent weeks urging lawmakers to reject Harwell as speaker. She faces opposition in the Dec. 10 Republican caucus elections that cast her as weak on key conservative issues.
The latest email featured House Clerk Joe McCord as a puppet master, pulling the strings of Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent and Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson from one hand and House Speaker Beth Harwell and former Republican Caucus Leader-turned education lobbyist Debra Maggart on the other.
“It is time to cut ties,” the image says in bold, capital letters. “Vote Rick Womick for speaker. No one will pull his strings.”
..The latest image, sent Sunday, is the third to select members of the House Republican Caucus, all from anonymous email accounts. One dating from about a week ago features a photograph of Harwell with the words, “Doesn’t Tennessee deserve better leadership?” The message stresses she “failed” to lead the fight against Common Core and repeal Obamacare, and failed to support conservative Republicans in the August primary.
Another released in October just after a date had been set for the caucus election, contained a picture of the Capitol Building at night and said, “It is time to replace our moderate leaders in the House,” in all capital letters.
Note: Womick has sent legislators an emailed letter declaring he is not responsible for the emails. It’s below.
Dear Fellow Legislators:
There are several emails that have been showing up in legislative and personal email boxes that are attacking Speaker Harwell, her staff, and other legislators on a personal level, ultimately targeting the character and personalities of all involved. While I appreciate the efforts of undisclosed supporters across the state, I am not responsible, do not condone, and do not support these, or any future emails, that degrade, attack, or misrepresent the character of any individual associated with the Tennessee House of Representatives.
I want everyone to understand that my bid for speaker is based on a fundamental disagreement in leadership style and a lack of accountability to the members of our caucus. My challenge to Speaker Harwell is not of a personal nature and I will not allow it to degrade into a campaign centered around character assassination.
As I stated earlier, serving as Speaker of the House is a very serious matter and an extremely important position in our state’s government. Such a position of leadership should not be treated as an inconsequential popularity contest for class president. Instead it should be fully vetted before anyone is allowed to assume the office. Over the next two weeks, I will be in contact with each of you, addressing the serious issues and misgivings that I have with our current leadership and the direction in which our caucus is headed. You will be given the truth, the facts, and the evidence as it pertains to the leadership we have experienced over the last four years. In return I will offer you the option of new leadership with new direction, fresh ideas, and a House that truly belongs to the legislators and the people they represent.
I will continue to professionally and respectfully address the serious grievances and issues that confront our caucus in this election for speaker. As Republican legislators, this is our vote and a time to make our voices heard. I encourage you not to be persuaded by disparaging attacks or hurtful innuendos that are beyond our control. It is important we stay focused, get beyond personality differences, and address the most important aspect of our election, which is the Constitutional governance entrusted to us by the people of Tennessee.
Representative Rick Womick
34th Legislative District