The plot was hatched over coffee during the Thanksgiving weekend. House Democratic leader Gary Odom went to Elizabethton to meet Kent Williams at his restaurant, Dino's. Out of the blue, Odom asked Williams how he'd like to be the speaker of the House.
"I think his first reaction was he thought I was joking because he knew Speaker Naifeh was working diligently to find the 50th vote," Odom told reporters a few minutes ago. "We were looking for an alternative in case it became necessary, and it became necessary."
That didn't happen, though, until 5 o'clock last night when Naifeh finally gave up on his own hopes and went to Williams to seal their deal. When the session started today, many Democrats weren't even aware of what was about to happen, Naifeh said. That's why Democrats moved for a 30-minute recess, to give themselves time to brief the party's members. (The wily Odom told the House he wanted the recess to give everyone time to take pictures with families in attendance on opening day.) Freshman Republican Terri Lynn Weaver, a gospel singer and apparently not the sharpest knife, unwittingly played into Naifeh's hands when she pushed the wrong button and mistakenly voted with the Democrats to allow the recess.
"It was not widely known and it had to be explained to the members of the House Democratic Caucus," Naifeh told reporters. But if Weaver had voted as she intended, "We would have found another way," Naifeh said.
In other developments,
- Naifeh claimed Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Jason Mumpower had been plotting mass firings of legislative employees, and that was one reason he made his deal with Williams.
Democrats are decrying the rude treatment that Kent Williams suffered at the hands of
Republicans. It was so chaotic that highway patrolmen went into the chamber to
guard the new speaker. "You are a disgrace to the state!" a red-faced Rep. Gerald McCormick
shouted at Williams at one point. Williams said at least three
lawmakers hurled "the f-word" at him.
Naifeh insisted Williams will act independently, not as his puppet as Republicans already are saying. "I'm appalled that people would say that. There's been no deals made.
I'm going to step back and let the speaker be the