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Harwell: My Daughter Says I’m Cool

In her first sit down with Capitol Hill reporters since being selected the Republicans’ nominee for House speaker, Rep. Beth Harwell fielded questions Monday morning about everything from limiting the number of bills lawmakers can introduce, her thoughts on gun legislation and tackling the task of creating jobs.

Harwell, who expects Republicans to officially vote her in as speaker in January, offered few concrete details during the 15-minute press conference, but she did talk about what it’s like to be the first woman elected to the powerful position.

Here’s what she had to say:


Republicans Scheduled to Vote on House Speaker Nominee

Sweeping Republican gains in the Tennessee House of Representatives resulted from GOP candidates campaigning on conservative principles. And voters deserve someone overseeing the chamber who believes conservative priorities are now the people’s priorities, Rep. Glen Casada said Wednesday afternoon.

Under his direction, the House could be expected to approve or advance only that legislation rooted in core conservative values: reducing government size and spending, keeping state regulators out of the business community’s hair and stopping any new tax increases.

That kind of leadership isn’t for a moderate, Casada told TNReport on the eve of his party’s selection of a nominee for House speaker.

“Some people think that agreement is a greater good than getting your principles passed,” said Casada. “And I feel like getting my principles passed…is of greater value than getting agreement.”

Key party constituencies, like gun-rights advocates and Tea Party activists, have argued, too, that Rep. Beth Harwell, who is running against Casada, would be more likely to settle for compromise on issues of importance to them. Some conservative activists have also called for the caucus House speaker vote to be public, although the chamber’s party members have resisted that suggestion thus far.

But despite her moderate image, Harwell, a a two-decade House incumbent who led the TNGOP for four years, has herself advertised that she has no problem cutting Democrats out of the lawmaking mix for the next two years.

“Certainly in times past, we’ve had this mentality of a Democrat-Republican coalition, understandably so,” she told TNReport last week. “That day is over.”

Casada and Harwell say they would marginalize Democrats on legislative committees to reflect the heavy Republican majority in the chamber. And both pledge to support whomever the caucus nominates for the post — which in Harwell’s case seemingly constitutes an assurance that she won’t seek to leapfrog the party’s more conservative elements and reach out to Democrats for support on the House floor in January.

The new speaker will replace Rep. Kent Williams, a former Republican turned Independent who was elected into the leadership post with the help of Democrats in 2009. Both Casada and Harwell say that kind of backdoor surprise is not in the cards in 2011.

Thirty-three votes are required to win the caucus’ approval. The nominee is expected win election before the whole chamber in January with the entire party’s backing.

The GOP won a 64-34-1 majority at the general election earlier this month, essentially giving the party control of two-thirds of the chamber.

The nomination process was originally scheduled for the second week of December, but was moved up in an attempt to bond the party together sooner behind one central leader, Casada said.

Caucus members seem to know who they want to vote for, “so they might as well get it out of the way,” he said.

“Many, many in the caucus basically felt they had already made their mind up,” Casada said.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner says Republicans have their work cut out for them.

The party will soon realize they can’t keep all the groups that helped them into office happy, he said.

“I think you’ll see a lot of those groups complaining about a lot of things as we go forward, and it just tickles me to death,” Turner said Wednesday.

News Transparency and Elections

Harwell Promises No-Compromise GOP-Driven House Agenda

Rep. Beth Harwell sees more than just a Republican majority in the House of Representatives — she sees it as a license for the GOP to do what it wants.

And what Harwell wants is be in the driver’s seat.

The Nashville Republican is running for Speaker of the House, a highly coveted leadership post Harwell says she’s earned after a four-year stint running the Tennessee Republican Party and heading up high-profile legislative committees.

But before she can take the wheel, she’ll have to beat out another well-connected contender in House Majority Leader Glen Casada as well as overcome concerns about her commitment to the conservative agenda and her friendliness to Democrats.

“Certainly in times past, we’ve had this mentality of a Democrat-Republican coalition, understandably so,” she told TNReport Wednesday. “That day is over.”

Since Republicans scooped up 14 extra seats in the House of Representatives for a 64-34-1 majority, Harwell has has been positioning herself as a House GOP lawmaker who is strong, experienced and patient enough to handle a massive freshman class of Republicans.

But some say her past legislative votes and actions cast doubt on whether she’ll consistently adhere to conservative interpretations of constitutional principles in the future.

The Tennessee Firearms Association shot off an e-mail to members Wednesday questioning Harwell’s stance on the 2nd Amendment, and beyond that the depth of her understanding of, and commitment to defending, other essential tenets of the Bill of Rights.

Case in point, said TFA Executive Director John Harris, was that Harwell had voted against two major bills expanding gun rights in the last two years.

She was one of only two Republicans in the House who voted not to overturn Gov. Phil Bredesen’s veto of a bill that would allow guns in places of business that serve alcohol. The override ultimately passed 61-30. The other Republican, Rep. Joe McCord, did not seek reelection this year.

“Many see an elected official’s voting history on these Second Amendment issues as a litmus test of the depth of that individual’s core, constitutional foundations,” Harris wrote in the TFA e-mail. “A demonstrated unwillingness to stand by core constitutional principles cannot be lightly ignored as a predictor of what might occur when other constitutional rights are in the balance.”

Harwell, a 53-year-old 12-term legislator, insists her record on gun rights is actually quite strong. She was given a ‘B’ by the NRA.

“In all the years I have been there, I have voted 100 percent with them, except for that one last bill, which was guns in bars,” Harwell said, adding that “alcohol and guns do not mix.”

At any rate, any legislation dealing with guns that is of importance to members of the GOP caucus would make its way to the House floor under her leadership, Harwell said.

As if she weren’t facing enough obstacles, her Speaker Kent Williams gave her an extra one when he endorsed her shortly after the election.

Williams said his backing was an attempt to help in her reach for the speaker’s gavel. However, given that the party is still ticked at him for using Democratic votes in 2008 to steal the speakership away from then-Rep. Jason Mumpower, his vocal support may do more harm than good, said Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol.

“I think, clearly, that that endorsement was not helpful in any stretch of the imagination. I think he did it thinking it would genuinely help, so I don’t think he realizes some of the feelings that exist for him on the Republican caucus,” said Lundberg, who declined to comment on who he would vote for, although he is angling for a seat as House Republican Leader.

Even though Republicans now make up two-thirds of the House, members of the Memphis Tea Party believe it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Harwell could rally the same troops that won Williams his speakership.

In a recent e-mail, the group called Harwell “damaged goods” and questioned her GOP loyalties to a conservative agenda.

But Harwell says none of conservatives’ worries are warranted. Not only is she ignoring Democrats as she counts up votes in her bid for speaker, but Harwell promises to load up legislative committees in ways reflective of Republicans’ robust numerical strength in the House.

“We have the majority, the vast majority. We are ready to govern in that mindset. As far as I’m concerned, there will be no Democrat-Republican coalition,” she said. “This will be a Republican decision who the next speaker is.”

Press Releases

TFA Director: Voting History Telling in Race for Speaker

An Emailed Statement to Subscribers of the Tennessee Firearms Association by TFA Executive Director John Harris; Nov. 10, 2010:

With the November 2 elections now part of history, decisions must be made on leadership in the General Assembly. While it is a pretty high probability that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey will remain in that office in the Senate, there is uncertainty in the House. In 2008, the Republicans obtained what they thought was control but it was later determined that well planned manuevers by Democrat House leaders, probably under the leadership of Jimmy Naifeh, Gary Odom and Mike Turner, crafted a plan whereby all Democrats voted for Kent Williams, a Republican, who then voted for himself to be Speaker. There is no doubt that similar evaluations are being made at present as the decision on House leadership positions can be made as early as December.

At present, two of the most talked about candidates are Rep. Beth Harwell and Rep. Glen Casada both of whom are Republicans from Middle Tennessee. Each have long voting records. Each have NRA ratings – Casada has an A rating and Harwell has a B rating from the NRA. As for their voting records, neither have carried the controversial, core legislation that seeks to repeal the infringements and reclaim the full exercise of the rights protected under the 2nd Amendment and the Tennessee Constitution. But recent legislative votes are nonetheless telling.

Votes on legislation which require a clear understanding of the rights protected by the state and federal constitutions can be a useful “litmus test” on whether a candidate follows all of the provisions in these constitutions or just the convenient ones. Votes evidence the understanding of the phrase “shall not be infringed.” Votes evidence the conviction to put the protection and preservation of constitutionally protected rights and the principles of the Founding Fathers ahead of the panderings of the politically correct (misguided) such as often reflected in the opinion editorials of the few remaining newspapers in the state.

For 15 years, TFA has worked to provide relief for handgun permit holders who are dining at restaurants where alcohol or beer is served. After removing the control of Jimmy Naifeh from the Speaker’s office and the influence he had on sub-committee votes, we have passed this legislation in each of the last two years. In each year, it required a veto override. In 2010 when HB 3125 (by Curry Todd) was up on the floor, Rep. Casada voted for it and for the veto override. Rep. Beth Harwell, perhaps as the lone Republican doing so, voted against removing restrictions on your constitutional rights.

Another significant bill to examine is the parks legislation in 2009. HB 0716 (Nicely) addressed the ability of handgun permit holders to carry in public parks. It opened state and fedearl parks but unfortunately left an “opt out” for local parks – which is another topic and another bill. Again, the votes on whether to honor constitutional rights or whether to disregard rights in the name of perhaps “political correctness” surfaced. Rep. Casada voted for the Nicely legislation and Rep. Harwell voted against it.

This week, several grassroots activists have received calls predominately from supporters of one of these two candidates in which the message has essentially been that the activitists, that is to say – the citizens, need to shut up their commentary on which of the two candidates for House Speaker would be more desirable. The callers suggest that this is a matter to be solely determined by the “elected” representatives who presumably now “know what is best” for the state and the operation of government. What these calls may suggest is an arrogance that distances itself from the reality of a representative form of government.

It is important that we, including those who have been perhaps too long elected to office, value the principles of the 1st Amendment and the right of the citizen to petition elected officials as one of the most fundamental principles on which this State and this Country are based. On that right, citizens are encouraged to vote, to run for office and to support those seeking office each in accordance with their own perspectives and hopefully each with a view to maintaining and strengthening the current composition of government to reflect to the maximum extent possible the rights and freedoms reflected by our Founding Fathers at the state and union levels.

Given the role and power of the Speaker of the House as well as that of the Lt. Governor, interested citizens have a fundamental right to express their desires to no lesser extent that than they do in any other matter that might come before the representative body. For more than 15 years, we have seen as Speaker Naifeh used that office to control committees and procedures such that proposed legislation could be easily derailed by a few in subcommittees and committees even when it was well established that the legislation would pass if brought to the floor. The Speaker’s office and its disproportionate power in Tennessee governance greatly impacts the matters that are even brought for consideration before the full House. To suggest that the elected and re-elected representatives should be left to their own on the selection of a leader of this degree of power without the input from those whom they represent cannot be reconciled with the principles on which this State and union were founded. But, of these things you are already aware.

If the objection has been to the tone of the comments relative to one of these candidates, then in part that candidate must accept the consequences of the voting history on matters that are of concern to those who individually and collectively oppose that candidate’s desire to be Speaker. I have been involved in the legislature with 2nd Amendment issues since 1995. Voting histories reflect actions made in light of convictions held or not held on the core principles of the 2nd Amendment and/or the Tennessee Constitutional clause when those issues were hotly contested. A candidate may in good faith have represented what he/she perceived to be the preferences of that candidates constituents or simply his/her own prejudices but I submit that such preferences cannot take precedence over fundamental constitutional rights even if those rights appear to the candidate to be out of date or inconvenient (to borrow a phrase from Al Gore).

The opposition that many of those who have fought hard to protect, restore and reinforce the rights guaranteed under the 2nd Amendment and the Tennessee Constitution have with respect to a candidate are generally founded on that candidates own voting record. Many see an elected official’s voting history on these Second Amendment issues as a litmus test of the depth of that individual’s core, constitutional foundations. This is not to say that the elected official may not be fundamentally more conservative than liberals in perhaps other fiscal or social issues. However, a demonstrated unwillingness to stand by core constitutional principles cannot be lightly ignored as a predictor of what might occur when other constitutional rights are in the balance.

It is important for all citizens to remain vigilant as the collective masters of government. Representatives have been elected but they have been elected as fiduciaries and stewards not as masters. Our plight in this country is that too frequently citizens have abdicated the duty of the citizens to be ever vigilant over those who have been elected as representative agents. Citizens have been too willing to place these elected officials on the pedestal of Mount Olympus when in reality the better analogy should be the heart of a servant that is demonstrated in the New Testament. Sadly, citizens have been trained to bow to elected representatives rather than to monitor and communicate with them.

The selection of a Speaker of the House for the 107th General Assembly is critical. The federal government has exceeded its constitutional boundaries and those limits must be reclaimed and re-established by the states. The district maps for the next decade are about to be redrawn. Social services may have to bow to budget limits as state government must be restrained. Illegal immigration must be reduced. Government efficiency must be increased to accomplish more with fewer tax dollars. Constitutional rights must be restored and excess legislation must be repealed. These are not tasks for lukewarm compromisers on bedrock constitutional principles.

TFA does not generally endorse candidates. TFA exists as a grassroots organization to motiviate and educate citizens. It is important that you, as a citizen, accept the responsibilities attendant to your freedoms and learn what you can of these candidates and anticipate the blocking moves of those who have been defeated. It is important for you to take a position on which of these candidates (or any others that you may prefer) is best suited in your opinion to set the tone of the Tennessee House of Representatives for the next 2 years. It is important that you call your elected representatives and discuss this with them to make your preferences known and understood. As always, act with the decorum of a master who has delegated authority and responsibility to a steward. Be knowledgeable, kind yet firm.