With a new GOP supermajority in place for the dawn of the 108th General Assembly this week, Democrats find themselves facing irrelevancy except in cases where the ruling Republicans are divided.
But there are already issues — some old, some new — where Republican divisions are apparent at the outset. There are others, especially on social policy, where intraparty tension between the most conservative lawmakers and their less ardent colleagues — few like to be called moderates — probably makes clashes inevitable.
The session formally convenes at noon on Tuesday. Republicans have 70 seats in the 99-member House and 26 in the 33-member Senate, marking the first time since the Reconstruction era of the late 1860s when the GOP had such ironclad control.
You have to go back to the 1960s to find a time when Democrats, who controlled the state for decades, had equivalent power in the Legislature and one of their own as governor.
The session also features an unusually high number of freshmen — eight in the Senate, not counting Knoxville’s Sen. Becky Massey, who served a partial term previously — and 24 in the House.
The first week will be devoted largely to filing bills and to organizational matters, notably including a sweeping overhaul of House rules and committees developed by Speaker Beth Harwell, that will set the stage for things to come. That will be followed by a two-week recess with work to begin in earnest on Jan. 28, when Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to deliver his annual “state of the state” speech.
Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey are hoping for adjournment by the end of April.
Despite having handed Republicans a highly coveted super majority status in the General Assembly, Democrats heralded Tuesday as a victory, reports Andrea Zelinski. Losing six state House seats over last legislative session’s total is actually a win for Democrats, top party leaders said Wednesday.
“Our numbers are down, we know that,” said Craig Fitzhugh, the leading House Democrat. “But the fact that we were able to retain all of our incumbents and pick up four new seats clearly shows the reversal of a trend. We are in the process of clawing our way back, ladies and gentlemen.”
While the minority party had ownership of 34 seats on the last day of the legislative session, they say they really only had 24 after the retirements of seven members and Republicans drawing them out of three more.
Walking away from Tuesday’s election with anything more than 24 seats is a victory, House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner said.
Brent Leatherwood, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, has sent members this memo on the history of partisan majorities in the Tennessee General Assembly:
Re: FACTSHEET about Supermajorities in Tennessee
The following information has been verified by the Office of the Librarian. What is the largest House supermajority in Tennessee history? What Party was in power? Who was the Speaker?
* Governor Brownlow’s Administration in 1865 had a 99 House and 33 Senate
vote majority. (Note: They were known as “unionists,” according to Legislative Librarian Eddie Weeks — but effectively Republicans. Also, Weeks says the House had just 75 members and the Senate 25 in 1865. The size was expanded by the 1870 state constitution.)
* SINCE 1901: In the House of Representatives, at the start of 1939 (the
71st General Assembly), the party breakdown was 84 Democrats, 14 Republicans (70 majority D). The Speaker was John Ed O’Dell. When is the last time a House majority had over 65 Members?
* At the start of 1977 (the 90th General Assembly), the party breakdown was
66 D, 32 R. When is the last time a House Majority had over 70 Members?
* At the start of 1965 (the 84th General Assembly), the party breakdown was
74 D, 25 R. Overall, are supermajorities common in Tennessee history?
* The last time one party held a 2/3rds majority in both Houses was 1977 (35
* However, from 1901 (the 52nd GA) until 1967 (the 84th GA) the Democrats
never held LESS THAN a 2/3rds majority in both houses (67 years).
* The high points of control in those years:
* HOUSE: At the start of 1939 (the 71st General Assembly), the Party
breakdown was 84 D, 14 R (70 majority D).
* SENATE: At the start of 1943 (the 73rd General Assembly), the Party
breakdown was 30 D, 3 R (27 majority D).
* Even in 1967 (the 84th General Assembly), the Democrats still held a
2/3rds majority in the Senate (25 D, 8 R); their majority in the House was 58 D,
41 R; down from 74 D, 25 R in 1965.
* From 1969 until 1977, neither party held a 2/3rds majority in either
Chamber. Bottom Line
* Since 1901 (111 years), there were 67 straight years of 2/3rds majority,
followed by once in the next 44 years.
* Supermajorities were once very common, but have been very uncommon since
Reports on Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ sexual relationship with a second patient he met as a physician have brought a new round of criticism from supporters of Eric Stewart, the Democratic nominee in the 4th Congressional District.
House Majority PAC, a group with ties to Democratic congressional leaders, announced it had purchased another $180,000 worth of television time for a new commercial criticizing the embattled congressman. That makes a total of about $280,000 spent by the group.
State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester, meanwhile, called a news conference to declare that DesJarlais “ran his medical practice like a Craigslist cathouse” and berate the state’s Republican leaders “standing in support of Scott DesJarlais and his unethical behavior” though a “conspiracy of silence” on the controversy.
The Chattanooga Times-Free Press on Sunday quoted a woman, who was granted anonymity, as saying she had the Marion County physician had a sexual relationship 12 years ago while his divorce was pending, that they shared marijuana and that he wrote prescriptions for drugs to her at her home. An earlier report quoted a transcript of DesJarlais urging another woman, also met as a patient, to get an abortion.
DesJarlais has said that, in the first case, he believed the woman was not really pregnant and used “strong language” with the aim of having her admit it. She turned out not to be pregnant, the doctor-congressman said.
DesJarlais had no direct comment on the second report. His campaign manager sent media this email:
“The woman mentioned in this article has reached out to both the congressman’s wife and the paper to express concerns about her statements being taken out of context and factual inaccuracies contained in this article. … Rather than focusing solely on a 14-year-old divorce, why don’t they talk to the congressman’s wife, Amy, who he has been married to for more than 10 years?
“It speaks volumes that even Lincoln Davis recently said that he regretted his actions and that these types of personal smear campaigns that hurt families have no place in politics.”
Davis, the Democratic congressman DesJarlais defeated in 2010, ran ads pointing to other allegations in DesJarlais’ divorce, including his ex-wife’s claim that he threatened her and once put a pistol in his mouth. Davis, who is backing Stewart this year, has said he regrets the ads.
Meanwhile, Forrester has called on the Republican Party and elected officials to seek DesJarlais’ resignation and to condemn his actions.
“Their approval and support of DesJarlais’ unethical behavior and hypocrisy makes it painfully clear that the Tennessee Republican Party is only concerned with one thing — holding on to power,” said Forrester.
Asked for comment on the Democrat’s call, state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney sent this via email:
“We’re not going to comment further on hearsay, anonymous charges that are being leveled by a desperate candidate. Folks in the 4th District are focused on jobs and the economy, and not on stories being ginned up for political purposes by a desperate Democrat Party.”
(Note: This updates and replaces previous post.)
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey wouldn’t mind one bit having a super majority in his chamber, but the Blountville Republican acknowledges governing the group may be tough.
“No doubt about it, my leadership skills will be challenged,” he said.
He might want to start prepping.
With a financial advantage in their legislative campaigns, and a near dead heat in the presidential race, Tennessee Republicans in both chambers are poised to get a super majority — or more — on Nov. 6.
Currently in the Senate, Republicans have a 20-13 advantage. The margin is 64-34 in the House, with one independent. To get a super majority, Republicans need to claim two seats in each chamber.
Ramsey said it’s possible to win as many as six seats in the Senate, while House Speaker Beth Harwell has said the GOP may gain at least three seats in the lower chamber. (Note: She’s also predicted the GOP pickup will be from three to 10 seats.)
If Republicans do get a super majority, Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said they may experience problems because sometimes “there’s more competition … within the party than between parties.”
“The general rule is that as parties get larger in Legislatures, they get less cohesive,” he said.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says there’s a good chance Democrats will be left with just seven seats in the Tennessee state Senate after the Nov. 6 election.
House Speaker Beth Harwell’s most optimistic Republican scenario has the minority party with just 24 representatives remaining.
They and other Republican leaders say there’s virtually no doubt that the GOP will hit a new high-water mark in the 2012 elections by gaining a two-thirds “super majority” in both chambers of the Legislature. There is considerable confidence in Republican ranks that they will go beyond that to what some are calling “a super duper majority.”
Democrats concede the probability of a super majority, which can be achieved by Republicans gaining just two seats each in the House and the Senate, and do not dispute the possibility that things could be a lot worse than that for them.
“We’re going to get outspent $3 or $4 to one. They’re done redistricting so it will help their candidates. And we’ve got a president who is not popular with a lot of people,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “If we can come back with 34 seats, they will have done a terrible job.”
A Democratic super PAC has jumped into the Tennessee 4th Congressional District race with an ad slamming Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais over revelations that he once had sex with a patient and encouraged her to seek an abortion, reports Andy Sher.
The House Majority PAC is spending”more than” $100,000 in the campaign and it is the first evidence that Democrats see Jasper’s DesJarlais, who has campaigned as being anti-abortion, as being vulnerable in his contest with Democrat Eric Stewart.
The group’s ad, “Trust,” begins airing this evening. “Trust and faith,” it says. “As a doctor, Scott DesJarlais earned his patients’ trust.” The ad then cuts to extensive news coverage of the abortion controversy.
View the House Majority ad HERE. “Scott DesJarlais’ incredible hypocrisy is just staggering,” said Alixandria Lapp, executive director of House Majority PAC, which is linked to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a statement. “Tennesseans deserve better than Scott DesJarlais, for whom touting the values of trust and faith was nothing more than lip service.”
DesJarlais’ campaign issued a statement charging Stewart “has tried to run from his strong backing of Barack Obama and Obamacare throughout this campaign by pushing out recycled, 12-year-old garbage to keep from talking about his support of liberal policies that are killing jobs in Tennessee.”
“His out-of-state, liberal attack team that works hand in hand with Obama is now trying to hijack this race from Tennesseans — but they are too smart to fall for that.”
— Note: The Tennessee Democratic Party, meanwhile, has a web video that is being passed around on the Internet, also bashing DesJarlais. It is HERE.
— Note2: DesJarlais is currently up with an ad attacking Stewart for thinking that Obamacare” is “great,” Prior post HERE. The Tennessee Journal says the current DesJarlais ad buy is for $250,000.
Tennessee GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell promised Tuesday to treat Democrats with respect although Republicans appear poised to hold a supermajority in the General Assembly following the November general election, reports Hank Hayes. Harwell, R-Nashville, spent Monday and Tuesday stumping for House GOP candidates in Northeast Tennessee.
“I told my members when I became speaker, I would be speaker for the entire body, and I would treat every member with respect, dignity and try to be fair to everyone,” Harwell said at a reception hosted by state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport. “It is my goal to make sure we continue that fine heritage of our state. I never wanted to see us get embroiled in the partisan bickering that exists in Washington, D.C., that has about brought this nation to its knees.
“I’m proud to say that our Republican majority, I think, has treated the Democrat Party with respect. … I was there back when we were not always treated that well as a minority party. We haven’t treated the Democrats in a way we were treated. We are called to treat the Democrats in a way we would have liked to be treated. And if we do that, there’s no doubt in my mind we will be the majority party in this state for a long time.”
…In the November general election, Harwell predicted “anywhere from two to 10” pickups of House seats for Republicans.
A GOP supermajority in the House, said Harwell, would allow her to suspend rules and move agenda items faster.
By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and his wife of 31 years, Karyn, are splitting up.
Court records show Karyn Frist filed for divorce on Friday, while an answer filed on behalf of Bill Frist states that he “admits, with sadness, that irreconcilable differences have arisen between the parties that will prevent them from living together as Husband and Wife.”
Family spokeswoman Beth Seigenthaler Courtney declined to elaborate on the reasons for the split.
“Dr. and Mrs. Bill Frist have decided to end their marriage,” she said in a statement. “They ask for prayers, understanding and privacy at this time.”
A report from Hank Hayes:
Amid the roar from engines inside Bristol Motor Speedway, a grass-roots conservative group tried outside the track to put the pedal to the metal on increasing voter turnout.
American Majority distributed printed information attacking the federal government’s debt only steps away from its NASCAR Nationwide series show car and five driving simulators inside its tent on BMS’ Vendor Row.
One American Majority card distributed from the tent read: “For too long, the media, Hollywood and entrenched politicians have had a louder voice in shaping the future of this nation than the American people. It’s time to put Americans back in the driver’s seat!”
The Purcellville, Va.-based group is sponsoring a Nationwide series car for more than 30 NASCAR races this year with rookie driver Jason Bowles behind the wheel of a red, white and blue Dodge Challenger.