The Republican supermajority caucus of Tennessee’s House of Representatives wants state lawmakers to host a get-together with the state’s congressional delegation.
At least some do.
A majority of House Republicans who attended a caucus meeting at the Capitol on Wednesday voted 31-16 to form a steering committee tasked with organizing a joint “bilateral session” to be held in January or February.
As proposed, the meeting would be in the Tennessee House chambers, co-chaired by the speakers of the state House and Senate, Beth Harwell of Nashville and Ron Ramsey of Blountville.
The discussion would center around topics deemed relevant to Tennessee by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The subjects of discourse would be given to the federal legislative delegation in advance, said Tullahoma Rep. Judd Matheny, who last week announced the idea.
The chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, Matheny wants Tennessee’s nine U.S. Representatives and two Senators to publicly and formally meet with state lawmakers to discuss congressional issues that affect the people and government of Tennessee.
Only two of the state’s lawmakers in Washington are Democrats: Reps. Steve Cohen of Memphis and Jim Cooper of Nashville.
“We need to do something to reach out to our congressmen in Washington,” Matheny said Wednesday. “There’s no reason we can’t have a dadgum good meeting.”
Matheny said the aim of his proposal is to start a conversation that “will leave both levels of government with a clear understanding of each other’s needs and actions while rebuilding public confidence.”
Matheny’s long-range plan is to hold such conferences annually. A seven-member steering committee will be appointed by Speaker Harwell. The committee will have four state senate members, should the Senate Republican caucus choose to join.
House GOP caucus members who attended Wednesday’s meeting expressed a variety of reasons for wanting to hold the meeting. The gist is they want to “open the lines of communication” on a perceived disconnect between Tennessee and Washington. Supporters of the meeting want to discuss what a number of Republicans see as an undermining of state sovereignty by Congress and the federal government.
Not all caucus members were completely sold on the idea, though.
Ooltewah state Rep. Mike Carter worries about opening the Tennessee Legislature’s doors to congressional dysfunction. “If we bring the problems in Washington to Nashville, I will be disgraced,” he said.
Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, likes the idea of a developing a constructive forum for sharing ideas between Tennessee’s members of Congress and the General Assembly, but he suggested moving forward cautiously until all the details of the conference’s aims are hammered out. Haynes said he doesn’t see much point in organizing a meeting doomed to degenerate into an ideological war of words between Democrats and Republicans.
Matheny tried to assuage such concerns. He stressed that the purpose of his proposal isn’t to spark a “political witch hunt,” but rather facilitate a “political business-meeting about issues.”
Matheny said he’s not simply trying to give state lawmakers “an opportunity to vent” at Tennessee’s members of Congress.