Trading Spaces

As state legislators and their staffs buzz around Capitol Hill swapping offices, former House Speaker Kent Williams is already settled in his new pad.

He ended up in the mail room.

“I moved up in there in that little hole, that’s what I call it,” said Williams, an independent from Carter County.

Granted, the mail is no longer being delivered to that ground floor office in the War Memorial Building, which is attached to Legislative Plaza where most public meetings take place. Postal services have moved to the basement of the plaza during the legislative off-season.

But Williams’ new digs are pretty lonely. His closest neighbor is a fellow former House speaker, Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, and the rest of the floor is mainly occupied by staff offices.

Williams, a former Republican, became persona non grata within the GOP two years ago when he won the speakership with the help of the Democratic Caucus.

Most legislators are on the first, second and third floors of the War Memorial Building. The vast  majority of caucus leaders are stationed in Legislative Plaza steps away from committee rooms, other party officers and various meeting spaces.

This year, 22 freshman Republican House members are in need of office space. The Senate is making room for four new legislators, also from the GOP.

But moving offices isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Rep. Charles Sargent, a Franklin Republican and chairman of the powerful Finance, Ways and Means Committee, packed up almost his entire office in preparation for his move only to find out Thursday that he didn’t have to relocate at all.

Senators also have their new office assignments, which have already been updated to the state’s legislative website.

The House assignments are still in flux, though. Only a handful of the new office locations have been updated online as of this posting, and Democrats are still solidifying their own room assignments.

Lawmakers are on a three-week break to take care of office changes and other housekeeping matters. They are expected back in session Feb. 7.

Williams said no one forced him into the windowless mail room office. Instead, he said he sought it out early enough to move his belongings in there before Speaker Beth Harwell was elected the new House leader.

He said he could have angled for an office with a view, but said he knew those spaces are prime pieces of real estate in the Capitol, and he didn’t want to fight for it.

“It’s quiet up there,” he told TNReport. “I wanted to be in up in the War Memorial Building with the other Republicans.”