Sen. Randy McNally, likely to become speaker of Tennessee’s Senate next year, doesn’t have a vote in electing the next House speaker, but says he would like to see one of his constituents, Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City, get the position.
“Jimmy is a very good friend and we’ve worked very well together,” McNally said in a telephone interview when asked about Matlock declaring last week that he would challenge Beth Harwell’s re-election as speaker of the House.
“Nothing against Speaker Harwell — I like her and respect her — but I’d support him (Matlock) in any of his endeavors,” said McNally, R-Oak Ridge, current chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “Jimmy would be a great speaker.”
McNallly, the Legislature’s most senior member, has announced he will seek to succeed retiring Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and has no announced opponent. The Senate Republican Caucus will meet after the November election, probably in December, to select its nominee and that nominee is virtually certain to win election in the formal Senate floor vote on a speaker to be held in January.
A similar situation exists in the House, where Republican representatives will also meet in a post-election caucus meeting to decide between Harwell and Matlock — assuming both win re-election to their respective House seats in November. Both face underdog Democratic opponents in November.
Matlock’s 21st House District seat includes all of Loudon County and part of Monroe County. McNally, who lives in Oak Ridge and does not face re-election this year, holds the 5th Senate District seat, which encompasses all of Loudon and Anderson counties along with part of Knox County.
If Matlock is successful in his challenge to Harwell, Loudon County would thus be represented in the Legislature by the speakers of both the House and Senate.
Haywood County of West Tennessee was the last county to hold that distinction. The late Lt. Gov. John Wilder and former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh both represented Haywood County for several years. Democrat Wilder was unseated as Senate speaker in January 2007 with the election of Ramsey. Democrat Naifeh was replaced by former House Speaker Kent Williams in 2009, who held the seat for one two-year term as an Independent until Republican Harwell’s election as speaker in 2011.
In media interviews, Matlock says he has no intention of criticizing Harwell, regarding her as “a friend and a classy lady.” But he also says “it’s time to hit the reset button” and put “a new style of leadership” into place for the sake of GOP caucus unity and smooth functioning of lawmaking work.
He’s optimistic about the outcome.
As reported by The Tennessean last week, Matlock sounded out his prospects among many caucus members and thinks he starts with a seven-vote lead over Harwell among caucus members among those willing to state a preference to him. But there are enough undecided members to change the result and, of course, legislators are known to change their mind.
Interviews with a handful of caucus members last week found most unwilling to state a preference.
“I love them both,” said Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby.
UPDATE/Note: From WJHL-TV in Johnson City:
When asked for a response to the unusual endorsement from a Senate leader for a House challenger to the speaker, Rep. Harwell’s office sent the following statement.
“I certainly understand that Rep. Matlock is Sen. McNally’s constituent, but this will be a vote of the House Republican Caucus. I am focused on helping my colleagues across the state get elected, meeting with constituents in the 56th House District, and my own re-election campaign. Caucus leadership elections are held after the general election, and the general election is my priority at this time.”