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Tennessee turns the page on a political era, makes way for the next

Ryan King, TFC Marketing and Events Coordinator 12/31/2018


Ryan King, TFC Marketing and Events Coordinator
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When the 110th General Assembly adjourned eight months ago, the legislature had a seasoned speaker of the house and leadership teams in both chambers with years of experience in Nashville. The state also had a governor nearing the end of his second term with a full slate of settled and experienced commissioners.

No matter the level of popularity some administrations enjoy, all see their time come to an end. Governor Bill Haslam, who was not eligible for re-election due to a constitutional term limit, has been replaced by Governor-elect Bill Lee. Lee won November’s general election convincingly, with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He comes from a strong beef cattle background in Williamson County where his family owns and operates LLL Farms. They raise registered Hereford cattle and sell a portion of the farm’s beef at their community farmers market. The Haslam–Lee transition represents Tennessee’s first like party transition in almost 50 years and the first time the state has had back-to-back Republican governors since 1871, fresh off the Civil War. Lee, who’s new position is the only state office elected on a statewide basis, will be inaugurated in Nashville on Jan. 19.

Given Lee’s passion for rural Tennessee and agriculture, finding his commissioner of agriculture was a priority. In early December, he selected industry veteran and State Veterinarian Dr. Charlie Hatcher to be the next to lead the Department of Agriculture. He was one of 23 commissioners the administration was tasked with appointing. They were also responsible for assembling a senior team, and are still in the process of filling many state positions. The number will reach into the hundreds. The new administration’s policy agenda will continue to take shape. As with every legislative session, the governor’s office brings a set of priorities they hope to accomplish with legislative approval.

The Lee camp was extremely vocal during the campaign about fixing a number of rural problems. It’s clear that vocational, technical, and agricultural education will be at the center of the discussion. He also spoke decisively about rural healthcare and opioid abuse, indicating those areas as priorities. Lee was quoted in an August publication prepared by the Tennessee Press Association as saying, “We are just a generation away from losing a way of life in small town Tennessee. If we don’t act decisively, we will lose it, and that’s something we can’t allow to happen.”

There will be 28 new House members at the state capitol later this month, representing a 28 percent turnover in the chamber. In the Senate, four new members have taken office. That does not include two seats, which have been vacated by newly elected Congressman Mark Green and now U.S. District Court Judge Mark Norris of Shelby County. Those seats will soon be filled in special elections.

Williamson County Republican Glen Casada will serve as Tennessee’s next speaker of the house, replacing Beth Harwell who failed in her bid for governor. Republican Representative William Lamberth of Sumner County will assume the post of majority leader, while Shelby County Democrat Karen Camper will take over as minority leader. Representative Camper is set to be the first African-American House leader in Tennessee history. Both Representatives Lamberth and Camper will be flanked by mostly new leadership teams in their caucuses. In the Senate, Jack Johnson of Franklin will assume the role of majority leader, while Jeff Yarbro of Nashville will take the reigns as minority leader. Both are brand new to the respective posts.

New leadership has indicated it will reorganize the committee structure and focus on continuing momentum, especially in the area of education. It is believed that healthcare, job training, and recidivism could lead the way on this year’s list of priorities. Continuing rural development has also been noted as one of the areas leadership in this legislature would like to address. Time will tell.

The 111th General Assembly will convene on Tuesday, Jan. 8. It is thought they will recess for two weeks to organize and allow new members to begin moving into new offices. This will be a new era in Tennessee politics. Rural Tennessee has a huge opportunity to shape it.

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