NASHVILLE, Tennessee – In the first phase of new leadership in the State of Tennessee, 28 new Representatives were sworn in to the 111th Tennessee General Assembly and the speaker’s gavel was handed from the first female Speaker, Beth Harwell, to Glen Casada.
Tennessee’s leadership transition will be complete when Governor-elect Bill Lee is inaugurated on January 19.
In front of a capacity crowd on the floor and in the galleries consisting largely of their families, the duly elected state representatives made their oath of office.
The next order of business was to elect a new Speaker of the House, which started with a motion by House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Cottontown) nominating Republican Speaker-elect Glen Casada (R-Franklin). Karen Camper (D-Memphis) was the Democrat nominee for Speaker.
A roll-call vote resulted in 75 votes for Casada to Camper’s 22 with one “present not voting” and one representative absent.
In his acceptance speech which he began near tears, Casada recognized former House Speakers Bill Jenkins, Kent Williams and Jimmy Naifeh. Casada also expressed his appreciation for his immediate predecessor, Beth Harwell, calling her “a woman of character” and a “true class act,” which was punctuated by a standing ovation.
With Harwell still at the top tier of the House dais, from the well Casada alluded to landmark legislation passed under Governor Bill Haslam that has made Tennessee so successful and said it will continue under Bill Lee’s leadership.
Casada went on to say that is also it is a time to “seize opportunities” and “embrace changes to come.” As Casada elaborated, some of those changes will come in the way of the House being more involved in the budget process. The House committee process changes will stop bills being held up by technicalities and being “double referred.” Committees will also be comprised of subject matter experts that will do a “deep dive” and “make good bills better.”
Casada also reflected on the ability to join across party lines, as was done on the last day of session when the problems with TNReady were addressed. The ability to work together was demonstrated with the vote for Casada as Speaker, where he received three votes from Democrats.
In closing, Casada asked for prayers that “God would put his hand upon my life,” and made a couple of promises. Casada committed that everybody would be welcomed and that his door is always open and that “you may see me at your door” to hear how we can make Tennessee a better place to live and raise a family.
While at times “passions may run high,” Casada said that as caretakers of this House, “respect and decorum will be the rule of the day.” Casada encouraged in his conclusion, “Together the House will lead.”
Casada then proceeded from the well to the House dais top tier. There he and Beth Harwell, who was Speaker for the past eight years before she made a run for the governor’s office in the 2018 Republican primary, embraced before Casada took the gavel.
Nominations for Speaker Pro Tempore were then taken, with 24-year Representative Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) as the Republican and Democrat nominees, respectively. A voice vote ended with Dunn receiving 77 votes to Mitchell’s 21.
In his acceptance comments, Dunn started by asking rhetorically that with the new year being a time for resolutions, “Can we all resolve to not be like DC?”
Demonstrating Dunn’s likable nature, he talked of the well-known poem where six blind men in describing an elephant by the one part they touched, were “partly right and totally in the wrong,” making the point that it is “the wrong way to govern.”
Dunn received votes from five Democrats.
Additional House Sessions will be held on Wednesday and Thursday of this week and will receive their committee and office assignments.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter for The Tennessee Star.