- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - House Speaker Beth Harwell has named Tammy Letzler as the first female chief clerk in Tennessee history.

Letzler replaces Joe McCord, who stepped down abruptly just days before the start of the 110th General Assembly next week.

Harwell, a Nashville Republican who became the state’s first woman to lead a legislative chamber in 2011, said in an email to members that McCord is leaving the position to pursue what she called a “new opportunity.”

McCord, a Maryville Republican, served six terms in the House before retiring as a lawmaker. Harwell named him clerk of the House, where he served as chief parliamentarian, managed the flow of legislation and helped settle disputes in committee hearings.

The move appears to be a step away from the longtime practice of mixing political and procedural roles for the chief clerk, which is one of the most powerful unelected positions in the Legislature.

Letzler, who lives in Murfreesboro, has worked in the House clerk’s office since 1994, and was named assistant chief clerk in 2002. She will be assisted by Kim Cox and Daniel Hicks, who will serve as parliamentarian.

A former lawmaker last year called for an investigation into McCord, claiming he had called a staffer obscene names and made a lewd gesture at her grandchild. The office of legislative administration deemed the incident to be resolved.

McCord did not return messages seeking comment.

According to legislative historian Eddie Weeks, no woman has previously held the position of chief clerk in either chamber, though two women served as engrossing clerks in the Senate and House in the 1870s and 1880s.

But an 1893 state Supreme Court decision ruled that no woman “could take part in the government of the state, and they could hold no offices except parish office.”

A 1907 law authorized women to practice law, and a 1915 measure allowed women to serve as a notaries public. The ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote gave way to the election of Anna Lee Keys Worley to the Senate in January 1921. She introduced and passed legislation later that year “to make women eligible to hold public office in Tennessee.”

Marion Griffin, who became the first female member of the House in 1923, was also the first woman licensed to practice law in Tennessee.

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