Ramsey ponders dealing with Senate Democrats in committee assignments

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says he’s trying to figure out how to handle committee assignments for the new crop of Democratic state senators, reports The Tennessean.

“Here’s the dilemma you have there: Do you regard their leadership positions or do you regard their seniority?” Ramsey told reporters during a media availability earlier this month.

(Of the five Democrats in the 33-member Senate, three are freshmen: Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville and Memphis Sens. Lee Harris and Sara Kyle. The other two are veterans: Sens. Thelma Harper of Nashville and Reginald Tate of Memphis. The Democrats chose freshman Harris as minority leader and freshman Yarbro as caucus chairmen, the two top leadership positions.)

Ramsey is considering putting his chips on the past, at least when it comes to picking committee assignments. Although he said he hasn’t made up his mind, he stressed a lawmaker’s tenure could be more important than the post their peers picked for them.

“Thelma’s been here since 1990: Do you honor the fact that she’s been here 24 years on some of these prime positions, or do you say, ‘Well yes, you got elected leader, but you’re a freshman and never served before?’ That’s something I’ve got to think through, I really do,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey also said it’s hard to serve on some committees as a freshman, and institutional knowledge would benefit other committees, but he didn’t specify which ones.

… Logistically it was already going to be a bit of challenge for Ramsey to pick committees for Democrats: Senators can only serve on three committees, and there are nine committees, which means most committees will have only one Democrat. But the question of which Democrat or Democrats get to serve on a high-profile committee such as Finance, Ways and Means — the gate through which most important legislation must pass — compared to a more procedural post such as a seat on Government Operations remains to be seen.

… Ramsey is confident the new Democrats, though few, will create a debate that’s a “little more lively” than those in the Senate recently.

“I do think we have a unique relationship here at our state Senate. So the bottom line is, obviously, the three that got elected will be more outspoken as a whole than the three that they replaced. But in the end, we’ll be fine,” Ramsey said.

“It’s going to be different on the Senate floor, no doubt about that. I mean, you know … they’re just different personalities, that’s just the way it works.”