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.
Tennessee Republicans have reached another high-water mark for dominance of state government by gaining a 70-28 majority over Democrats in the state House and 26-7 advantage in the state Senate – a six-seat GOP gain in both chambers.
With Republicans already controlling the governor’s office, two U.S. Senate seats and seven of nine U.S. House seats, there is some speculation that the “new normal” — a phrase favored by Gov. Bill Haslam — will mean more quarreling within party ranks than with diminished Democrats.
When a reporter asked House Speaker Beth Harwell at a Wednesday news conference if 70 House Republicans would be “a lot of cats to herd at times,” she nodded her head affirmatively and replied, “Yes!”
The speaker went on to say, however, that “I think our Republican caucus is as united as I’ve ever seen it” and voters had effectively approved of the party’s legislators continuing on the course begun with smaller GOP majorities in the past two years.
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.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A shadowy Tennessee company donated more than $5 million to a prominent conservative super political action committee days after establishing itself.
So who’s behind one of the largest batches of election contributions this year? There’s a questionable trail.
Campaign finance reports filed late Thursday show that the political committee, FreedomWorks for America, received seven donations totaling $5.28 million from Knoxville-based Specialty Group Inc. The money, which accounted for about 90 percent of FreedomWorks for America’s donations during the first 15 days of October, is helping pay for TV ads supporting conservative candidates for federal office.
An Associated Press review of Tennessee business records showed that Specialty Group filed its incorporation papers on Sept. 26, less than a week before it gave several contributions to FreedomWorks worth between $125,000 and $1.5 million apiece. The Specialty Group appears to have no website detailing its products or services. It is registered to a suburban Knoxville home.
Specialty Group’s opaque contributions provide another example of the marked changes to the campaign finance system, in which corporations and individuals can spend unlimited sums of money to support candidate. Major donors, including those to a super PAC benefiting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have been caught routing significant donations through corporate entities, effectively cloaking their identities.
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.
The Tennessee Journal, in its latest update on legislative races, says there is a “high probability” that Republicans will gain two-thirds “super majorities” in both the House and Senate. The subscription publication elaborates a bit thusly: The GOP should pick up three to six seats in the Senate. In the House, Republicans stand to gain up to seven seats with the sure victories of Mike Carter in District 29, Jeremy Durham in 65, and Roger Kane in 89 and the likely victories of Dawn White in 37, William Lamberth in 44, Debra Moody in 81, and Billy Spivey in 92.
They could make it eight by winning the toss-up race in District 13, and they may also have a chance in one to three of the “leaning Democratic” contests. Democrats have shots against four GOP incumbents in “toss-up” races and can only hope to limit the damage. Given their plight after redistricting, if Democrats hold Republicans below 70 they can claim a moral victory.
Three seats are listed by the Journal, edited by Ed Cromer, as tossups: District 20, where Republican Steve Dickerson faces Democrat Phillip North in a seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Joe Haynes; District 20, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Barnes faces Republican Mark Green; and District 24, where Republican John Stevens faces Democrat Brad Thompson for the seat vacated by Democratic Sen. Roy Herron.
Five seats are listed as tossups in the House lineup: District 5, where Republican Rep. David Hawk is challenged by Democrat Eddie Yokley; District 13, where Republican Gary Loe faces Democrat Gloria Johnson (and independent Nick Cazana); District 33, where Republican Rep. John Ragan faces Democrat Jim Hackworth; District 60, where Republican Rep. Jim Gotto faces Democrat Darren Jernigan; and District 76, where Republican Rep. Andy Holt faces Democrat Mark Maddox.
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.
Under Tennessee law, it’s illegal for a lobbyist to make a political contribution to a state legislator. But, if the lobbyist sets up a political action committee, gives money to the PAC and then the PAC gives money to the legislator, well, that’s just fine.
And lots of lobbyists do that.
Under Tennessee law, it’s illegal for a human being to give more than $1,400 to candidate for the state House. But a PAC, essentially a legal fiction created by human beings who are legislators, can give up to $7,100.
So Louie Lobbyist, who as a human being is prohibited from giving anything to Larry Legislator, can fill out the PAC creation paperwork, then Louie PAC can give Larry $7,100. The well-funded lobbyist thus has more giving power than your average citizen. Oh, and if Larry has decided to set up a PAC himself (and lots of legislators do), then Louie the individual person can give money to Larry PAC, since Larry PAC is not Larry Legislator, the person. And then Louie PAC can give more to Larry PAC on top of that.
They’re all separate, you see. And PACs have superpowers beyond those of mere mortals.