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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.

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Speaker Williams Doubts Cable Tax Bump Will Pass

With a recession on and an election coming up, House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton, said during a press conference in his office Thursday he doubts lawmakers will want to pass a cable tax increase — or for that matter most any other significant tax- or fee-hike this year.

Gov. Phil Bredesen’s FY2010-2011 budget proposes bumping taxes on cable television consumers to raise an estimated $49.8 million.

Bredesen’s $28.41 billion budget proposal released this earlier this week includes about $70 million in hikes and new taxes.

Williams did say he supports raising the cost of obtaining a Tennessee driver’s license from $19.50 for five years to $46 for eight years. He’s also said he supports giving state employees bonuses this year that will cost an estimated $164.7 million.

Bredesen said in his State of the State speech Monday that without the increase “85 filled trooper positions and 56 filled positions in the driver’s license stations” would have to be eliminated.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, also voiced opposition to the tax on Thursday.

“Increasing the cable bill is not the way to balance our budget,” he said.

The governor also said he wants to give all full-time state employees a 3 percent bonuses in order to “recognize their dedication.”