State House speaker-to-be Beth Harwell is coming under new attacks from the right wing of her party as too moderate, but she insisted again Monday that voters expect legislators to focus on jobs and the economy and not social issues.
“Gov.-elect Haslam’s agenda, his job creation program, will be at the top,” Harwell said when asked at a news conference to name her top priorities.
Conservative talk radio host Steve Gill predicted Republicans might lose half of the 14 House seats they gained in November’s elections because of Harwell’s nomination last week as her party’s choice as speaker.
Harwell, who represents Green Hills, defeated the more conservative House Republican political caucus chairman Glen Casada in the election, which was decided by secret ballot. Tea party activists and the state’s gun lobby supported Casada.
“When you’ve got a huge conservative political year, when you have candidates who run as conservatives, as tea party candidates, and then they vote for the more moderate RINO [Republican in name only] instead of the more conservative, I think that is a bit of a shock,” Gill said on Channel 2’s Sunday political talk show This Week with Bob Mueller.
“Frankly, I guess we shouldn’t be shocked. Politicians lie. They lied to their constituents in this case. And they lied to Glen Casada. He had people look him in the eye and say they were voting for him with enough numbers to win.”
After her nomination, Harwell said of her tea party critics, “We welcome their input … but certainly our party is united and ready to move forward.” Gill claimed she was “thumbing her nose” at the tea party by saying that.
“I think you’re going to see over the next 18 months, a lot of these Republican freshmen and others get challenged in primaries because they’ve proved by this election that they’re not as conservative as they said on the campaign trail,” Gill said. “They’re going to have votes that are going to further expose that.”
Talking to reporters Monday, Harwell played down conservative social issues as topics of debate for the next legislature, which begins in January.
She was asked specifically about the possibility that lawmakers might repeal the state’s handgun permit law to allow the unregulated carrying of firearms. Haslam drew criticism in the final days of the gubernatorial campaign for telling the Tennessee Firearms Association that he would sign such a bill into law. He later insisted he would encourage the legislature not to change the law.
“I don’t see that coming forth this General Assembly,” Harwell said.
“We addressed a good number of gun bills last session, and I feel that clearly we received a mandate from the public that we need to be focused on jobs and education and the economy this session.”