The speaker of the Tennessee Senate says he and Gov. Bill Haslam, also a Republican, communicate regularly on issues before the state’s General Assembly — and that despite occasional appearances to the contrary, they’re very much on the same page when it comes to key issues that seem to divide the GOP.
For example, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told TNReport recently that Haslam agrees in principle with the ongoing push to roll back union collective bargaining leverage.
And Ramsey says the governor has also expressed frustration that the state’s current method for selecting judges seems out of compliance with the state constitution, even though courts have ruled otherwise.
In fact, Haslam supports changing the state constitution to allow for a mechanism similar to the one now used, says Ramsey. The lieutenant governor began publicly pitching for that idea himself last week. He sees it as a preferable alternative to bolstering existing constitutional language that appears to suggest voters, not politicians, are the ones who’re supposed to be deciding who wears a black robe in Tennessee courtrooms. The Tennessee Constitution declares, “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.” Judges on the “inferior courts,” it also states, “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned.”
Said Ramsey: “(Haslam) is 100 percent with me on the electing judges — the fact that, if we are going to continue the system we’re under, we need to amend the constitution.”
“On the collective bargaining,” added the Blountville Republican, “I think (Gov. Haslam) is letting Beth Harwell, the speaker of the House, and myself, work out the differences there. And whatever we pass, he’ll be there to sign it.”
Asked if it surprised or worried him that Speaker Harwell had to take the unusual step of throwing a lifeline to the House’s collective bargaining bill she personally supports by voting for it herself in a subcommittee last Wednesday, Ramsey said not really.
Such dramas are “part of the legislative process,” Ramsey said. “She knew when she appointed the committees who she was putting on those.”
Ramsey also added that he doesn’t think it bodes particularly ill for GOP anti-collective bargaining efforts in the Senate that the Republican-led House seems divided on the issue.
House Education Subcommittee Chairman Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, almost upset the GOP apple cart last week when he abstained from voting on the House’s watered down version of the Senate’s collective bargaining bill. Harrison said it didn’t leave the unions that represent teachers enough chips at the labor-contract negotiating table. Had Harrison voted against HB130 rather than merely sitting on his hands, the bill would have died on the spot, thus potentially ending for the year discussions about restricting teachers’ collective bargaining. As it happened, Speaker Harwell stepped in and cast the deciding vote, passing it out of the subcommittee, 7-6.
At any rate, that little glitch shouldn’t alarm stalwart collective-bargaining foes, said Ramsey. Just because a bill is getting bogged down in a particular committee doesn’t mean it won’t sail to passage on the chamber floor, he said.
“While the Democrats had a majority, dozens and dozens and dozens of bills failed in subcommittee that would have passed if they’d gotten before the full House,” he said. “So (a single committee) is not a true representation of all 99 members.”