Rutherford County’s congressional delegation made history this week after an extraordinary shift of power following November’s state elections.
For the first time since 1869, state Republicans now control both houses of the General Assembly as well as the governor’s office. It’s also the first time county voters are represented entirely by Republicans.
With power comes great responsibility, a point not lost on our county’s delegation.
“The people now are going to be watching and evaluating how we govern,” Sen. Jim Tracy (R-16) told the Post. “Both speakers in their remarks yesterday talked about bringing jobs to Tennessee. Leadership is on the same page, and now it’s time to govern.”
Tracy said he hopes his position on the Senate Education Committee will help guarantee funding for a new science building at MTSU.
Sen. Bill Ketron (R-13) hopes his new No. 3 position in the Senate as Republican Caucus Chair will position him to better serve his constituents. Ketron hopes to build on the creation of a state procurement department to cut government waste.
“Right now, we have no idea who has procurement authority across departments all over the state,” Ketron said. “In Georgia, they’ve saved several hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Ketron wants the state to create a website to list and manage procurement contracts and said the transparency and accountability will empower citizens to see wasteful spending like what is done in Missouri and other states.
“When you start seeing things like this through technology, and citizens have that many eyes looking at it, when you open it up and expose wasteful spending, it will stop,” Ketron said.
Newly elected Rep. Mike Sparks (R-49), a former county commissioner who defeated Democratic incumbent Rep. Kent Coleman, said he’d look to constituents for priorities and looked forward to what his new committee assignments will do for his district.
“Health care costs are a big concern for me as a small business person. I’ve had to deal with rising premiums, and many people can’t afford health insurance,” Sparks said.
Sparks said he wants more than anything to be effective for his district.
“People in my district are hurting,” Sparks said. “I’ve seen more foreclosures over the past year and see the writing on the wall in my own neighborhood. I want to see a bipartisan approach to these issues, and voters are going to hold us accountable on whether we can get it done.”
Rep. Joe Carr (R-48) viewed the historic Republican control more as an opportunity to deliver on a conservative agenda.
“This is a conservative state with regard to fiscal policy and social issues,” Carr said. “Both houses are dominated by conservatives, and that means the conservative agenda will pass with a lot less rancor like we experienced in the last General Assembly.”
Carr has spent what he describes as hundreds of hours on three bills dealing with illegal immigration. Carr hopes his new appointment as chairman of the Immigration Task Force in the House will help make immigration a priority in the 107th General Assembly.
“I’ve been working on those bills consulting attorneys across the country and those more gifted in legislation than I, and my hope is we will pass those three bills in this session,” Carr said.
Carr and seven other lawmakers made news last August when they visited Arizona to show support for the controversial SB 1070 requiring law enforcement to check the legal status of citizens they have “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally.
“Conservative estimates put the illegal immigration population in Tennessee at around 150,000 at annual cost to the Tennessee taxpayer in excess of $450 million dollars per year,” Carr states on his website.
Rick Womick (R-34) said he will co-sponsor a constitutional amendment against income taxes. Womick, who replaced outgoing Rep. Donna Rowland, sees workers comp and tort reform as essential to helping businesses create jobs.
Womick is also concerned the federal government’s mandated health care coverage under the Health Care Reform Act unfairly burdens businesses.
“This session, we’re going to work to pass the Health Care Freedom Act to assert our state’s sovereignty according to the 9th and 10th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution so that you cannot force citizens to purchase health care,” he said.
A former Republican Party chairman for Rutherford County, Womick made note of the historic moment in which he and his colleagues enter the legislature.
“Rutherford County has never been completely Republican ever. But it’s the first time since Reconstruction we’ve held all three. On top of that we had the first woman Speaker of the House. Now we got the majority who believe the same way, and we’re going to fulfill our commitment to creating jobs,” Womick said.
History was also made this week with the election of the state’s first female Speaker of the House, Rep. Beth Harwell (R-56).
“It’s pretty exciting,” Tracy said. “She’s an effective leader, and it just shows in Tennessee that the American dream is here, that if you work hard you can be the Speaker of the House.”
Harwell has served in the legislature for 22 years and promised to work with both parties to address the priorities of Tennesseans.
“We have work that is worth doing, and if we work together, and work hard, I know we will be successful,” Harwell said Tuesday.
Carr said he understood the history being made but dismissed the significance on whether being the first female speaker would affect the outcome of legislation.
“I don’t know what the vote was, but the fact that she’s a woman has nothing to do with our ability to get the job done, and it has nothing to do with her gender,” Carr said.
Sparks said Harwell will help shepherd the kind of solutions voters want to see.
“She is a very assertive leader with years of experience and I think she’ll work well across the aisle, and during these tough times people are tired of partisan bickering and want to see solutions,” Sparks said.
Committee assignments for RuCo’s legislative delegation
Sen. Bill Ketron
Chairman, Senate Republican Caucus
Chairman, Fiscal Review Finance, Ways and Means
State and Local Government
Sen. Jim Tracy
Vice-Chairman, State and Local Government
Rep. Joe Carr
Vice-Chair, General Sub-committee on Education
Secretary, Education Finance
Rep. Mike Sparks
Health and Human Services Transportation
Rep. Rick Womick
Consumer and Employee Affairs Judiciary