The resignation of state Sen. Paul Stanley amid scandal last week has left the Republican brand damaged and the GOP sans a member in the state Senate. As the majority in the Senate attempts to replace their fallen colleague and repair their brand, the Caucus will have to deal with another seismic shift in the political landscape: the rise of the radical Right.
Tennesseans face the possibility of seeing, not just one, but three of the most conservative and controversial members of the state House GOP caucus running for seats in the upper chamber this year and next.
Just minutes after the resignation of Paul Stanley, Rep. Brian Kelsey made known his intention to succeed him. He will face likely opposition in a special election in the fall from Rep. Steve McManus, David Pickler and a host of others. Kelsey is among (if not the) most right-wing legislators in either house.
Known most prominently as the legislator who placed bacon in an envelope in order to protest pork-barrel spending, Kelsey is no ordinary bombthrower. He has a PAC, RED STATE PAC, which he has used since joining the legislature to support conservative candidates — a must for ambitious pols.
He is an ideologue but he doesn't let it get in the way of his climbing the ladder as was revealed when, shortly after the election of Kent Williams as speaker, Kelsey was caught offering to drop his opposition to Williams in exchange for a committee chairmanship.
Rep. McManus' district overlaps the 31st Senate district far more than Kelsey's House district but Kelsey is young, he is hungry and he has activist support. He can win this.
The second member in our radical right trio is Rep. Stacey Campfield. While no formal announcement has been made as of this writing, it is known that Campfield has been knocking on doors outside his House district in the state Senate district of Tim Burchett. Burchett is not seeking re-election in order to run for Knox County Mayor.
While Campfield does not have nearly the ability to raise big money, he is a tireless campaigner who refuses to be outworked. Constantly underestimated, Campfield will face stiff primary and general election competition as he does every election year. He will not be favored in the primary but, considering his past and the Republican nature of his district, it is not inconceivable that come January 2010 we will have a Sen. Campfield.
The last, and most moderate of three, is Rep. Susan Lynn. While not a bombthrower or a stunt legislator, she is an ideologue and has carried many bread and butter legislative packages for the Right, most notably a state sovereignty resolution popular with the Tea Party crowd. While Lynn is looking to succeed one of the most conservative state senators in Mae Beavers, the district is not a rock solid Republican stronghold.
Lynn's House district covers only a small affluent apart of Beavers' Senate district. Lynn will have to introduce herself to many parts of the district and, if she wins the primary, she may face a Democratic candidate with significant party backing.
The elevation of these three to the state Senate would not just mark an ideological shift, but a shift in style.
The three senators currently holding those seats have been strong conservatives, no doubt. But these three House members are a different breed. Their election would not just keep the 'Mae Beavers' factor in the Senate, it would increase it by two. These members are not just extremely ideological, in some cases they are downright confrontational.
Former Lt. Gov. John Wilder is famous for saying that "the Senate" is "the Senate." Indeed it is. The nature of the Senate usually encourages moderation, pragmatism and deliberation, not discord.
The House is different. There are 99 House members. Bombthrowing House members are a dime a dozen. While never quite this simple, if one can get a little money together, work hard, knock on a lot of doors, an ideologue can win a House district. Senate seats are tougher to come by and thus the members are usually more mellow in their conservatism. A Senate comprised of Campfield, Kelsey and Lynn would definitely not be John Wilder's Senate.
A victory for this troika would without a doubt be a triumph for a certain kind of conservative Republicanism. Whether that is good for the state or the GOP or not is an open question.
The irony here is that this newly radicalized state Senate in 2010 could be serving a governor who is their mirror opposite — but inside their own party.
If Bill Haslam wins the governor's race, Republicans may very well hold both houses of the legislature as well as the Executive residence. However, instead of a uniformly friendly legislature, the moderate Haslam would be confronted by the newly radicalized Senate of Lynn, Kelsey and Campfield headed by a lieutenant governor who Haslam had just defeated in the primary for governor, Ron Ramsey.
One party rule — in name only.
A.C. Kleinheider is NashvillePost.com's political blogger. Visit Post Politics at http://postpolitics.net