Harwell Urges House Members to Remember Constituents, Respect Each Other

Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell‘s 109th General Assembly Opening Remarks; January 13, 2015:

Judge Bivins, honorable members of the House of Representatives, other elected officials, and the citizens of our great state, welcome to the opening session of the 109th Tennessee General Assembly.

Members, the voters have given you the privilege of being their chosen representatives. The success of any republic is predicated on men and women, such as you, offering yourselves up for public service. Ben Franklin wrote, “In free governments, the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns.” Thank you for your willingness to serve.

To our new members, I welcome you to this body as fellow colleagues, and I look forward to working with each of you. You bring fresh ideas, new energy, and diverse experiences and backgrounds to this legislative body. I look forward to you putting these things to work for the betterment of our state.

In the 17th century, physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton spurred the scientific revolution and developed the modern principles of physics. Today, he is perhaps best known for his law of gravity. However, Newton did not take all the credit for his accomplishments. In fact, he stated, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

Today, each of us stands on the shoulders of our families, friends and supporters. We would not be here without your love, friendship, unwavering support, and hard work. Let’s give them a hand. Since the 108th General Assembly adjourned over eight months ago, the work of the legislature and the administration has been recognized nationally for improving the quality of life and the economic climate in our state:

  • For the second year in a row, Tennessee was named “State of the Year” for economic development by Business Facilities magazine.
  • In addition, Tennessee was named a top five state for doing business according to Area Development magazine. The Volunteer state was ranked number one for overall infrastructure and global access; number one for distribution and supply-chain hubs; and number one for certified sites and shovel-ready programs.

This is an impressive record for Tennessee, but there is much more to be done. With the business of our state before us, we must seize the opportunities that await us.

To my fellow members, before we begin the people’s business today, I ask three things of you:

First, please remember we are representatives of our constituents who elected us. These seats in the House of Representatives do not belong to us as members. They belong to the sixty-five thousand citizens in each of the districts we represent.

I am reminded of a quote by Roger Sherman, member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787: “Representatives ought to return home and mix with the people. By remaining at the seat of government, they would acquire the habits of the place, which might differ from those of their constituents.”

As a part-time, citizen legislature as envisioned by the framers of our state constitution, it is important that we spend time at home, in our districts, living under the laws we pass. I encourage you to go home each weekend and to stay in touch with your constituents.

Second, please respect your colleagues. I ask members of both sides of the aisle to maintain decorum and to treat each other as you would like to be treated. Members represent different districts and are entitled to their own views. To quote Thomas Jefferson, “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics…as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”

While Washington, D.C., remains mired in partisan gridlock, our state legislature will work toward building a better Tennessee. At times, we will respectfully disagree, but I am confident that when it comes to creating a better and more prosperous Tennessee, there is more that we will agree on than not.

Finally, let’s all work together for the good of our state. Baseball legend Babe Ruth said, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”

Forty years ago, Tennessee adopted as our slogan, “America at its Best.” It’s a high standard, but we are just getting started. In the coming weeks, let’s work together to live up to our state motto and work to indeed make Tennessee the best state in the union to start and grow a business, to raise a family, and to retire. The future of our state, and the future of our children like those gathered in the galleries today, depend on it.

Ladies and gentlemen, today we convene a promising new session of the General Assembly. Let’s get to work! Thank you.