Like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner, House Republicans never seem to win in the end. In one of the craziest days in the history of the Tennessee General Assembly, a Republican finally was elected House speaker--it just wasn't Jason Mumpower.
Jimmy Naifeh did it to them again. He's smarter than he seems. It was a raucous session complete with catcalls, boos, and derisive laughter from Republican lawmakers and supporters in the gallery. Democrats nominated two-term Republican Rep. Kent Williams for speaker, and then promptly elected him 50-49, with Williams voting for himself. Mumpower and friends, a surprised "we-are-so-fucked" look on their faces, sat in stricken silence as the vote was taken. Some Republicans actually cried. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey called it "a travesty." Later, the new House coalition of Democrats-plus Williams elected Democrat Lois DeBerry over Republican Beth Harwell as speaker pro tem.
"Any more outbursts," Naifeh warned more than once, "and I'll have the people removed from this chamber."
There were cries of "traitor," and Channel 4 reports
a trooper had to go into the gallery and calm down one guy. Republicans booed as Williams went to the House well to speak. "I'd appreciate it if everyone in this chamber would just hear me out," Williams shouted. "I'm a Republican but not for much longer because you guys are going to kick me out, probably."
"It's time to end the in-fighting and bickering and just looking out for yourselves," he said to loud snickering in the chamber.
Then to add insult to injury, Williams said to more boos, "Today comes the end of the reign of a great speaker, Jimmy Naifeh."
We're thinking Republicans now are regretting campaigning against Williams in his party primary last year. State GOP chair Robin Smith immediately issued a denunciation of Williams.
"Kent Williams has betrayed his constituents and the people of Carter County in breaking his pledge - his signed oath - to vote for the nominee of the Republican caucus for Speaker of the House. He lied, in a quest for personal power, in league with Democrat Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and House Minority Leader Gary Odom, in their desire to retain power despite the results of the 2008 elections."
In an unusual move, Highway Patrolmen stood guard at the podium when Williams walked up to it, and troopers surrounded Williams as he left the chamber and ducked into the speaker's office. I think it's safe to say that emotions are running a little high here.
In a brief press conference, Williams talked about what he'll do as speaker. He promised to appoint Republicans to at least half the committees. The Q&A follows after the jump.
: You said some bills bottled up for years will come to the floor? Will that include the abortion resolution?Williams
: Yes. Abolutely, that'll be the No. 1 priority. That will come to the floor, I can assure you of that.Q:
: Some of the gun bills that have been killed over the years. There won't be any committees loaded down to kill legislation. That's not going to happen.Q
: So who's in control, Republicans or Democrats?Williams
: Republicans are in control. 50 to 49.Q
: People across the state outside of upper East Tennessee don't know you. How do you consider yourself, conservative or moderate?Williams:
I consider myself a conservative. I'm not for any new taxes. I'm for cutting spending. You know, sometimes recession isn't bad. Sometimes recession will show us in government that we can reduce our budgets and live within our means. But I would consider myself a conservative.Q:
Did you do this to take revenge against Republicans who campaigned against you in your primary last year?Williams
: There were Republicans who campaigned against me but that's in the past. That's done. That's over. I can't go back and change that. But that's over. There's no bitterness. Q
: Why not vote for Mumpower then? Williams:
I think I'd make a better speaker and a better leader.Q:
When did the Democrats first approach you about this?Williams
: The Democrats didn't approach me. I approached them.Q:
And what did you say?Williams:
I told them I'd like to be speaker of the House. It was maybe a couple of days ago, I don't know.Q
: What did the Democrats say to you? OK?Williams
What about the infamous pledge? The 50 signatures?Williams
: That we would vote for a Republican. Yes, I voted for a Republican.