Republican Leader Jason Mumpower, a key figure in delivering the GOP its historic majority status in the state House, surprised much of the Capitol on Thursday by announcing he will not seek reelection this fall.
For Mumpower, from Bristol, it was a stunning turn, since he was within one vote only a year ago of becoming speaker of the House, edged out in a striking maneuver when Republican Kent Williams of Elizabethton made a deal with 49 Democrats to make Williams speaker instead.
That vote jolted the other House Republicans and denied Mumpower the speaker’s gavel many had assumed he would be taking. The Republicans had gained a 50-49 advantage in the House in the 2008 elections, creating the party’s first majority in both the House and Senate since Reconstruction.
Mumpower said Thursday after the House adjourned for the day that last year’s vote on a speaker had nothing to do with his decision now to leave after serving 14 years.
“That’s old news,” he said. “It is what it is. That has nothing to do with it. My decision has everything to do with what is right for me and right for my family.”
He said his focus now will be on legislative work and the upcoming election season.
“The time was right,” Mumpower said. “It’s always best to leave the party early.
“This hasn’t been an easy decision. This has been one I’ve come to know is the right decision. What I’m going to do at this point is finish this session, leading this caucus in an aggressive way to make sure that we accomplish a balanced budget with no new taxes. Then I’m going to leave this session and get out in the field and make sure we continue to grow and expand our Republican majority in the House.”
Mumpower mentioned “new challenges” in his future but he gave little hint as to what they might be. He did acknowledge a personal desire he and his wife have to have children.
“I’m 36 years old,” he said. “One thing I haven’t done yet is start a family.
“I think if I had chosen to run I would have been re-elected to my House seat and re-elected as House Republican leader and I think I stood a very good chance of being elected speaker. Ultimately, I made a different decision.”
He said he felt he was making the right decision.
“It’s a decision a member of the House has to make every two years, and if you look back at past election cycles, I’ve always had a tradition of filing my petition for re-election on or about (NASCAR) race weekend in Bristol, and that happened to be this past weekend.
“I’ve spent a lot of time this past weekend talking with my family and really came to the conclusion this past weekend that this was the right time for me.”
Mumpower said he would be active in working for Republican candidates.
“I’m going to work in many political campaigns across the state, helping Republicans get elected,” he said.
Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, Republican caucus chairman, said he did not believe Mumpower’s departure was related to any disappointment about the speakership.
“Jason was a true leader. He’s a true friend, first and foremost,” Casada said. “He is a true Christian. He lived what he believed. He did an excellent job as majority leader, and he’s probably the fundamental reason why we are in the majority.”
Casada said he thought there were a lot of factors in Mumpower’s decision and that he thought Mumpower himself probably didn’t know what he wants to do away from the Legislature.
“I think he has served 14 years and he’s looking to do other things,” Casada said. “He’s been going back and forth 600 miles a week for 14 years. It’s just time to do something else.”
Rep. Mike Turner, D-Nashville, the Democratic caucus chairman, said he had heard rumors “a while ago” about a possible departure by Mumpower.
“I heard rumors. I hadn’t heard anything lately. I had kind of forgotten about it. Then I heard early this morning about it,” Turner said.
Turner and House Democratic leaders had locked horns earlier this week over controversial remarks Turner had made about reaction to the Obama health-care reform plan in Washington.
“Jason is a good man,” Turner said Thursday. “He’s a very intelligent man. He’s been a friend of mine for some time. We don’t always agree on a lot of things, but it doesn’t make him a bad person. I’m sure he’s going on to better things.”
Mumpower did not speculate on who might win his district seat.
“Fourteen years ago, the people of the 3rd Legislative District decided to take a chance on a skinny, 23-year-old kid, and I respected the judgment that they exercised then, and I’m going to respect the judgment they exercise now in choosing whomever they want to represent them,” Mumpower said.
“I will be working to ensure it is a Republican, because I think only a Republican will best reflect the values of the district I represent.”
When a reporter asked Mumpower for more specifics on what he will do next, Mumpower reiterated his intention to work for candidates.
“I’m not leaving the fight. After that, we’ll see. Maybe you need a camera man,” he said. “I’m going to see what’s out there. Whatever the case may be.”
Mumpower had been in the Legislature only a few years and was not very well known outside his district when state Republican Party members began to notice the strong approval ratings Mumpower had there.
He soon became recognized as a rising star in the House, and his ascension to the leader’s post followed. He looked primed to reach the top position in the chamber when the 106th General Assembly convened. Then came the dramatic vote that made Williams speaker.
As Mumpower waited patiently Thursday while members of the media gathered around his desk on the House floor for comments, moments after the day’s session had adjourned, a man stepped forward, said, “Jason,” reached out and shared a firm handshake with him, then walked out of the chamber. The man was Kent Williams.