Category Archives: Beth Harwell

Sunday column: On the foul-up blame game

The special legislative session that convenes Monday to fix a $60 million mistake has inspired a political blame game that will likely continue with speeches to be made while giving rubber-stamp approval to the required fix.

There is, indeed, fault to be found in the situation. But the game participants seem to be ignoring a lot of it, maybe including the fundamental problem.

Democrats have taken the lead in finger pointing, starting when the U.S. Department of Transportation pointed out last month that a bill approved in April lowered the legal presumption for drunken driving from .08 blood alcohol content to .02 for people aged 18 to 21. Continue reading

Dog bites Harwell

House Speaker Beth Harwell has a bandage on her hand and is taking antibiotics after being bitten by a dog while knocking on doors while campaigning in her Nashville district last week.

As initially reported by WKRN-TV, Harwell described the encounter as meeting “a ferocious dog protecting his home turf” when the animal’s owners turned out not to be at home.

“I was at the front door and (the dog) came around from the back and he did not like that I was there,” she told reporters. “So I did what I normally do with a dog, which is throw out my hands and say, ‘Sit!’ Real firm. … And this big dog just reached up and grabbed a finger.”

The dog subsequently took another bite at her hand, then her hip.

“I had to go to the hospital, but I’m on antibiotics and I’ll be fine,” Harwell said, adding that — even though she didn’t get to ask the dog’s owner for support — “I sure hope I get that vote.”

Harwell is opposed by Democrat Chris Moth in the November general election. She is widely expected to win re-election to her House seat and, if so, will face an announced challenge from Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, to her reelection as House speaker.

Note: This expands, updates and replaces original post.

Matlock will miss special session

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, who has announced plans to challenge the reelection of Beth Harwell as House speaker, will not be attending next week’s special session, according to an email reported by The Tennessean.

“When I announced my run for Speaker, I began taking steps to transition the day-to-day operations of my business to my family,” said Matlock, who runs a tire business which has four East Tennessee locations. “The business trip I will be attending next week has been planned for some time and is one of the final steps in this transition process.”

Last month, Matlock announced his plans to challenge Harwell for the chamber’s top leadership spot, saying his primary goal is to unite the Republican caucus and support each member.

“My priority is being able to lead the House with my full devotion and come November I will be ready to do just that,” Matlock concluded in his email.

Durham likens ouster to ‘medieval beheading’

State Rep. Jeremy Durham tells WKRN-TV via text message that he plans to attend next week’s special session that will include an attempt to remove him from office — if some conditions are met. But it seems those conditions are not what House Speaker Beth Harwell has in mind.

When asked by reporter Chris Bundgaard if he would attend the special session, Durham replied by saying, “If they provide me a legitimate opportunity to present my own evidence and face my accusers, I wouldn’t miss it. But it must be fair.”

Durham also added, “They’re trying to expel someone who’s never been charged with a crime and never been the subject of a human resources complaint. The least they could do is give me a fair trial. Simply giving someone a few last words before a vote is taken on them sounds more like medieval beheading than anything resembling American constructional principles.”

Durham, who was the subject of a scathing state attorney general report where 22 Tennessee Capitol Hill women accused him of sexual harassment, recently lost a primary bid, but he will retain his seat until a replacement is elected in November.

Other lawmakers have voiced their concerns about Durham receiving pension. Pensions begin at the age of 55 and lasts for the rest of the recipient’s life.

Durham’s pension, if he finishes his second term in November, would be worth about $344 per month, or $4,130 per year.

Further, an excerpt from The Tennessean story:

House Speaker Beth Harwell said Durham had his chance.

“What I understand is that the (attorney general) report serves as evidence and he will be given the chance to address the body and that’s it,” she told The Tennessean on Thursday.

Harwell backs ouster of Durham in special session

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Next week’s special legislative session will also present an opportunity to oust a lawmaker who was the subject of an extensive sexual harassment probe, Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office said Wednesday.

Gov. Bill Haslam called the special session with the limited purpose of fixing a drunken driving law to avoid losing $60 million in federal road money.

But research by the House clerk and legal staff found that an effort to remove a sitting member would be considered “procedural” under the chamber’s rules and therefore permissible during the special session, said Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen.

Owen said that a resolution to oust Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin is expected to be filed before next week’s session, and that Harwell plans to vote for the measure. Continue reading

Democrats blame Harwell for DUI snafu

State House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart is blaming Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell for creating an environment that has recently put the state in jeopardy of losing $60 million in federal highway funds.

Further from The Tennessean:

“This was not an accident,” the Nashville Democrat said Wednesday. “This was the direct result of specific policies put in place by Speaker Beth Harwell.”

Stewart said Harwell, R-Nashville, is responsible for accelerating the pace of legislative sessions, placing a cap on the number of bills lawmakers can introduce and ignoring concerns about the state’s fiscal review process.

The combination of those things is what has led the state to what Stewart called a “catastrophic failure” which arose after the state approved a new DUI law.

In August, federal authorities told state officials the new law, which changed penalties for 18- to 20-year-olds found driving drunk, could result in the state losing $60 million.

Federal authorities say the state’s law is not in compliance with a federal zero tolerance law, which forces states to set 0.02 as the allowable blood-alcohol level for drivers under 21.

…A spokeswoman for Harwell did not respond to questions about Stewart’s comments, instead pointing out that the legislation in question was approved by an “overwhelming bipartisan vote.”

…Although he did not disagree with Stewart’s call for slowing the pace of the session down, (Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, chairman of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee) took issue with the Democrats’ pointed criticism of Harwell.

“Blaming the speaker for is just playing political football,” White said.

Note: The Democrats’ press release is below. Continue reading

TSEA hires former Harwell aide as new lobbyist

News release from Tennessee State Employees Association
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee State Employees Association has hired Paul Overholser as Government Affairs Director.

“I had the opportunity to work with Paul for 10 years when he worked as legislative assistant to Speaker Beth Harwell,” TSEA Executive Director Randy Stamps said. “Paul’s experience working with legislators on policy dealing with State Employees, combined with the respect he has on the Hill, will help TSEA better serve our members into the future.”

Overholser worked for Tennessee General Assembly as Speaker Beth Harwell’s Legislative Assistant from 2006-2010. More recently, Paul served as Policy and Research Analyst for the House State Government and Local Government Committees from 2010-2014.

“As a former state employee, I understand firsthand what it means to be a civil servant and the challenges that all of us face,” Paul Overholser said. “I am very excited to work for TSEA. I really appreciate the loyalty, enthusiasm, and pride I’ve witnessed just from my first week and I look forward to using my contacts and experience to help all state employees.”

Paul Overholser holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Austin Peay State University.

McNally favors Matlock for House speaker

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.” Continue reading

Matlock optimistic about unseating Harwell

State Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City tells the Tennessean that he’s optimistic about chances for unseating House Speaker Beth Harwell in voting among House Republican Caucus members after the November election.

“I see myself up by seven (votes). I think there’s still a good number in the middle. So I’m far from locking down anything, and don’t presume among (lawmakers in) my count 100 percent will stay. I’m just telling you how it feels,” Matlock said in a phone interview Thursday.

… In his phone interview Thursday Matlock tried to stress he is not running against Harwell, calling her “just a wonderful lady.”

“The word that keeps coming back is ‘We’re frustrated, Jimmy, and we want transparency. We want the opportunity to be in the discussion, and we want to go home and be able to tell our districts we know what in Nashville is being planned and how we set our agenda.’ The transparency keeps coming up over and over again,” Matlock said, referencing conversations he said he’s had with other members.

Harwell has faced criticism, mainly from Democrats, as to how she’s handled the ongoing scandal involving embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham. Matlock said he doesn’t want to second-guess Harwell’s decisions, but he’s committed to a “new day” at the statehouse.

He was light on the details as to what that new day would look like, but promised more information throughout his campaign. In general, Matlock said he wants to promote candor and transparency while giving everyone in the caucus and the entire House a chance to speak and contribute, something he said hasn’t always been the case.

“I have, like other members, found the last session to be challenging, frustrating, and I think there was a mood among the caucus of divisiveness that didn’t certainly play in a positive direction,” Matlock said.

Matlock challenges Harwell as House speaker

In a letter to fellow House Republican Caucus members, state Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City announced today he will seek election as speaker of the House for the 110th General Assembly.

The move sets up a contest with House Speaker Beth Harwell, who has faced some criticism recently from conservative members of the caucus.

Says Kara Owen, spokeswoman for Harwell, in response to an email inquiry:

“I can confirm she does plan to run for Speaker again, but her first priority is her own re-election campaign, and assisting her Republican colleagues with their races”

Here’s the text of the letter from Matlock, who is currently chairman of the House Transportation Committee: Continue reading