On Politics: Will Dems have buyer’s remorse about new speaker?

Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 1:50am

Jimmy Naifeh and Gary Odom may prove to be too smart by half.

Certainly, the two Democratic leaders of the state House pulled a measure of victory from defeat this week by propping up largely unknown Republican House member Kent Williams as the body’s new speaker.

Why would they do that, you might ask? Well, it was a strange week at the Tennessee General Assembly — a place that seems to draw some of the state’s most outlandish characters this side of the Metro Jail.

Democrats were left reeling after November elections that saw the GOP’s majority margin hold in the state Senate and saw Democrats lose their House majority for the first time in over a century.

This came amid a bitter battle for the speakership between Odom and Naifeh that lasted all summer and into the fall, as they wooed the prospective votes of an ultimately unsuccessful field of Democratic House hopefuls.

The result was that GOP Minority Leader Jason Mumpower was poised to take Naifeh’s speaker seat away, ending an almost two-decade reign. The answer for Odom and Naifeh, it seems, was Williams, who is one of the infamous “Naifeh 7” — a group of mostly East Tennessee House Republicans that have voted for Naifeh as speaker in the past.

Williams, a heretofore quiet and unspectacular member of the House, is now arguably one of the three or four most powerful people in state government. To get there, Williams essentially turned his back on the entire Republican Party and threw Mumpower — the architect of the GOP victories in November — under the proverbial bus.

The back-story is that there was no love loss between House Republicans and Williams as GOP leaders unsuccessfully ran a primary opponent against him for voting for Naifeh.

So, what will state House Democrats get in return for Benedict Kent’s deal with the devil?

On the front end, Democrats will get at least half if not all of the committee chairmanship appointments — the real source of power in the General Assembly. They also get another momentary victory against Republicans by turning one of their own against the GOP.

On the other hand, Democrats, in what may prove to be a remarkably shortsighted move, also get saddled with whatever legacy Kent Williams leaves in his two years as speaker. Remember, the only Republican who voted for Williams was Williams. He was put into power with all 49 Democrat votes in the House.

Whether the GOP allows him to stay in the party or not, Williams is essentially a Democratic speaker. Tennessee Democrats will get the credit — or the blame — for whatever Williams’ leadership brings.

How should that make rank-and-file Tennessee Democrats feel? Well, Odom and Naifeh basically took arguably the opposing team’s weakest player and put him in charge.

Does that serve the Democratic agenda?

Yes and no. At first blush, Democrats get to keep some all-important committee seats and share the power despite being in the minority.

Democrats will have to explain to some of their constituents why they voted for Williams in Tuesday’s last-minute scramble, which might not be an easy task. For example, Williams has already said he will see a constitutional abortion ban come to the floor — something Democrats have bottled up in committee for years.

Now the possible passage of the ban will have Democrat fingerprints all over it. How will that play in the urban cores of Memphis and Nashville?

So, in exchange for one heck of a parting shot, the semi-deposed Democratic House leadership put in charge a man few on the Hill know much about. That is quite a big risk for Democrats who suffered a historic defeat at the polls last year amid a national resurgence for their party.

Unless Williams has a hidden reserve of intelligence, character and statesmanship somewhere, House Democrats may find themselves struck with a huge case of buyer’s remorse in 2010.

Contact Brewer at editor@nashvillecitypaper.com

Filed under: City Voices
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By: martindkennedy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Unless Williams has a hidden reserve of intelligence, character and statesmanship somewhere...If so he has kept it very well-hidden... don't think anyone suspects that he does.

By: truthtold on 12/31/69 at 6:00

One thing he does not have is character. I can't speak for the other two.

By: HenryB on 12/31/69 at 6:00

This is all just wishful thinking on your part, Clint. No Democrat is going to have trouble explaining to his or her constituents a vote for Williams over Mumpower. That's a no-brainer. The fact that Tennessee does not have Jason Mumpower as speaker is a very, very good thing. Mumpower is a rabid right, hyper-partisan, cocksure toady of Ron Ramsey, and their political prowess now is under extreme question. The folks who will be doing the explaining to their constituents are the Republicans who let a majority dwindle into powerlessness because of their arrogance.

By: JerryN on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Obama's candidacy and the decision not to run an active campaign in Tennessee had more to do with the republican gians in the house than Mumpowers efforts. He was as shocked as anyone with the results. The Republican's broke Reagan's 11th commandment of not speaking against your own. The decision to sponsor a primary opponent aginst Rep. Williams was shorth sighted and has come back to bite them. Jason Mumpower clearly was outfoxed by Naifeh. His decision to support running an opponent against Williams was a strategic blunder. Are the Republicans really sure this is who they want as a party leader?

By: royt5 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It's just another Democrat dirty trick. When they can't win at the polls, they do anything they can to win, even to the point of being cheaters. See how they handled the Franken recount. Odom and Naifeh have shown their true colors, but we already know what kind of kind of people they are.

By: Idahoser on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Clearly the pervasive communism in government has reached TN, when even here we consider it to be "Rabid Right" to oppose the democrats. Don't worry too much though, I don't think even if we did get the government we elected that we'd be able to oppose the communist onslaught from Washington for a whole term. You'll get your damn way, and you WILL choke on it (here's a secret- communism is bad. You just haven't had to learn that while there was a free America to bail out the rest. That's about to end.)

By: PromosFriend on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I get a laugh whenever someone like "Idahoser" starts running around calling people Communists and warning about the dangers of communism whenever anything goes against their far right beliefs. Most, including 'Idahoser," really don't even know the definition of communism. If he were to study different political systems a little more carefully, he'd find that the programs that Washington Democrats are espousing are pointed more toward socialism, an intrusive system of course, but not near as intrusive as communism as we know it. That being said, I agree with the posts on this forum (and others) that castigate Williams for his self-serving treachery. Sounds to me like his ego outweighed his intelligence and that he let himself be led by the nose by the political machinations of the Democrats.

By: LifeIsGood on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Clint, you have your facts wrong on what you call the "constitutional abortion ban." SJR127 is not a ban on abortion. Current law in Tennessee, thanks to a TN Supreme Court Ruling in 2000, is that abortion is completely unrestricted for any reason up to the moment of birth. SJR127 would state that the TN legislature has the power to make laws restricting abortion, such as a parental notification law, and the like.

By: RyanHurd on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Hey Idahoser....What is communism?Perhaps you should get your definitions straight before you toss around worthless and politically charged terms when something that you don't agree with happens.

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 6:00

socialism is to communism as AAA ball is to the Majors.

By: TH on 12/31/69 at 6:00

RyanHurd, your response, "What is communism

By: BenDover on 12/31/69 at 6:00

We are living the basic premise of communism now. "From each according to his means to each according to his needs" is how Marx defined it. Communism as a form of government is determined by how far a society is willing to go to enforce the premise. Our highly progressive tax system combined with ever more encroachment upon how we are allowed to spend the earnings we keep is communism. Having elected officials with more power than the people who elect them is communism. Government having complete control over the financial and business sector is communims. Atlas Shrugged is another good read that seems more and more timely every year.

By: chiefpayne568 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Sorry HenryB, but I disagree. IMO, the Republicans will not have anything to explain to their constituents...IF they are smart.If Williams offers them appointments, they should publically decline them, saying they cannot work for a dishonorable man. Force Williams to appoint ONLY Democrats and then force him out of the party, making him choose between Independent or Democrat.Then, let the Dems do what they do best - rule the roost with an iron (Naifeh) hand...and when the feces hits the rotary oscillator, then the Republicans refuse all responsibility.BTW, arrogance had nothing to do with their losing...it was misplaced trust which did them in.

By: BigPapa on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Anyone know what caused this guy to turn his back on the party that got him elected? To completely turn coat and start playing for the other team?What caused such a caustic reation?

By: BenDover on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The party backed another guy in the republican primary.I disagree chief. Throwing in the towel is the wrong idea here. Making these shenanigans very public is a good idea but you don't just throw up your hands and let the people who stole this position have free reign.In better times this would have been politely settled with a duel. And Nafieh would have been long gone for all of his underhanded manipulations.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Ben, are you saying the Mumster knows how to handle a gun?I think Kent has been given a stern talking to by 'the enforcers of truth and right' (Ramsey and Mumpower) judging by the fact that he hasn't been tossed out of the party and that he voted for the highly mediocre at best state officers. I think this will settle down quickly.Sorry to disappoint the rabid right, but I don't think there will be any public floggings in Carter County or in front of the Capitol.

By: slacker on 12/31/69 at 6:00

We need term limits, and no perks, just Per Diem.Maybe then the public could get people who actually want to serve, for the good of the state & country.Most of these guys seek these offices, for the perks, & a need to feel important.Elect retired people, wealthy people who can afford to serve without pay.Maybe give a Wonderlic test to weed out the dumb arses.Yeah, I know I couldn't pass it, couldn't afford it anyway.

By: Time for Truth on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Not bad ideas though.And tighten up lobbyist access more, what they've done so far in that area is baby steps.