- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - House Speaker Beth Harwell decisively defeated a tea-party challenge from Rep. Rick Womick on Wednesday to win the Republican nomination for another term in charge of the lower chamber of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Harwell, a former college professor and state Republican Party chairwoman, beat Womick 57-15. The full chamber will formally elect the speaker in January, though that step is little more than a formality given that Democrats hold just 26 of 99 seats.

“We’re going to have some tough issues before us,” Harwell said. “But it’s my hope as your speaker that we’ll conduct ourselves in a civil demeanor, and allow us to come up with constructive solutions that bridge the diversity of this caucus, not fracture it.”

As speaker, Harwell has worked to build a broad coalition in the House and has formed a close alliance with fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Womick, an airline pilot from Murfreesboro, said his candidacy was about the House seeking more independence from the executive branch.

He argued that the longtime practice of the governor’s office “flagging” bills that it objects to has been used as “de facto veto” by the Haslam administration. He also said he would restructure the way the Legislature estimates the fiscal impact of legislation, so those projections don’t unfairly defeat bills before they are voted on.

Womick, a vocal critic of the governor’s support for Common Core education standards, has called Haslam a “traitor to the party” because supporters targeted fellow Republicans in the August primary for disagreeing with the governor on Common Core education standards.

Womick warned fellow Republicans they could face “personal and political retribution” from the governor if they don’t go along with his policy agenda.

“Folks, if you speak out against the governor on issues such as Common Core, or oppose him on the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, or, as we’re recently hearing, a possible increase on the sales tax on gasoline, you are going to be looking at your 2016 primary,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, the Senate Republicans voted to nominate Ron Ramsey of Blountville to another term as speaker of the upper chamber, and for Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville and Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro to remain in their current roles.

The only leadership change among Senate Republicans came in a vote that saw Judiciary Chairman Brian Kelsey of Germantown replaced by Doug Overbey of Maryville on the Fiscal Review Committee.

Republicans hold a 28-5 advantage in the Senate.

Following the elections, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris cautioned members that “we can pass anything, but that doesn’t mean we should.”

He elaborated on his statement after the meeting.

“We still have a number of members who came from an earlier time,” Norris said. “Sometimes things are proposed as devil’s advocate, or rhetorically to make a point. That’s fine as far as it goes. But not everything is a great idea; and the less legislation the better.”

___

Associated Press Writer Lucas L. Johnson II contributed to this report.


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