Tea Party activists are calling on Republican state representatives to publicly declare how they vote in their spirited fight to decide who bangs the gavel as House speaker in the GOP-dominated 107th General Assembly.
But House Republican Caucus chairman Glen Casada, the favorite to win his party’s nomination as speaker, says the caucus will stick with its plans to vote by secret ballot Thursday — albeit during a meeting that’s open to the public. Casada’s opponent in the contest is Rep. Beth Harwell of Green Hills, who would become the state’s first woman speaker of the House.
“I want to know who voted and who voted for whom and what their reasoning was,” said Mark Skoda, leader of the Memphis Tea Party, which is lobbying for Casada. “That’s an issue of transparency. This is not the time to go secret ballot. At the end of the day, I want to know how my representatives voted. We want to know what their rationale was. An anonymous secret vote is problematic.”
Casada said House GOP caucus bylaws call for a secret ballot and insisted his hands are tied in the matter.
“There may be a time that the caucus will look at changing that,” he said. “But our bylaws call for a secret ballot and it’s been that way — gosh — since I’ve been up here about 10 years now. So we will comply with our bylaws.”
In voting by secret ballot, House members are insulated from reprisals by either side. The full House will formally elect the new speaker in January. Republicans so outnumber Democrats — by a margin of 64-34 —that their nominee is a shoo-in.
Skoda said that should Harwell win her party’s nomination, the Tea Party will punish any representatives who vote for her for speaker.
“If she is elected, there will be House leaders who will pay the price in the next election cycle. It’s just that simple,” he said.
Tea Party activists and the state’s gun lobby have opposed Harwell chiefly because she voted against the guns-in-bars law in the last legislature. In addition, they point to her endorsement by Rep. Kent Williams, who was kicked out of the Republican Party for making a secret deal with the Democrats to win election as House speaker two years ago.
“Beth is definitely moderate,” Skoda said. “She’s got a foot in both camps. We now have a 64-vote majority. There’s really no reason to compromise now. We need a strong partner on the House side, someone who’s not going to compromise. It’s important that we get a strong conservative who will back those issues that are important to us.”
In interviews, Harwell has promised to push a conservative agenda: “Certainly in times past, we’ve had this mentality of a Democrat-Republican coalition, understandably so,” she told the Tennessee Report. “That day is over.”