JOHNSON CITY - Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Friday that proposed campaign finance legislation to prohibit political action committees (PACs) from making contributions to other PACs is an attempt by Democrats to "take that luster off" his recent election as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor.
The Blountville Republican made the comments during a taping of "Legislative Chat," a public affairs talk show produced for public television by East Tennessee State University.
A recent Associated Press records analysis of Ramsey's leadership PAC, Republicans Achieving A Majority, found the PAC avoided contribution limits by giving money to another PAC that then directed money to key Senate Republican candidates in the 2004 and 2006 election cycles.
Ramsey insisted no state laws were broken.
But Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Haynes has filed a bill that would keep multi-candidate PACs from giving to other multi-candidate PACs.
Republicans hold a narrow 17-16 majority in the Tennessee Senate, and Ramsey recently defeated three-decade incumbent Democrat John Wilder of Mason for the Senate speaker's and lieutenant governor's post.
"One reason I'm speaker is because we got the right people elected, at least in my opinion," Ramsey said. "I'd like to think I've been very successful through hard work, through diligence, through traveling the state, and any time there is a power struggle like there is in Nashville right now and a change in the political climate ... there's going to be an attempt to take that luster off.
"Let me assure you everything we've ever done is aboveboard and completely by the book, and they know that. At the same time there are Democrats and Joe is the caucus chairman who feels like he needs to take that luster off. I don't know (Haynes' bill) has a chance of passing. I'm not sure they really want it to pass because there are PACs that give money to other PACs all the time."
Ramsey contrasted how campaign finance has changed since state Sen. Jim Holcomb of Bristol spent $26,000 on his campaign to win a Senate seat in 1992. During three key Middle Tennessee Senate races last year, each of the candidates spent more than $500,000 apiece, Ramsey noted.
Ramsey indicated he'll again be seeking re-election to his 2nd Senatorial District seat in 2008 and trying to widen the Republican majority in the Senate.
"I'm not sure that (Wilder in West Tennessee's 26th Senate District) runs again, he sits in a seat that should turn Republican. ... This is a shift that should last awhile for the Republican Party," Ramsey said of the likelihood for Republicans to keep their Senate majority.
Ramsey said the Senate has completed the transition from Wilder to his leadership.
"I'd like to think the state Senate is a lot like a business," Ramsey said. "The business takes on the personality of a CEO. You can feel it in the halls of Nashville. ... It's more upbeat and more vibrant. People are saying ‘These are exciting times' and I'd like to think it is. I'm the more optimistic, upbeat person than my predecessor to say the least, and so I'd like to think that's where we're headed. It's going to be an exciting time. We've appointed committees that are pro-business."
Ramsey also talked about the prospects of Gov. Phil Bredesen's multimillion dollar education plan proposed to be financed with a 40 cent cigarette tax increase. Bredesen wants to expand the state's pre-K program and put more money into at-risk students.
"If there was a weakness, it was probably in the fact that he didn't talk much about higher education or education in high school where we need to keep our students and have higher graduation rates," Ramsey said of Bredesen's plan. "He's concentrating more on the pre-K end, and that's where we disagree if we do disagree on that. As far as the cigarette tax goes, I think most people in the legislature realize that we're the second- or third-lowest cigarette tax in the nation, and it is probably time we do look at that. I think the argument will be how much and where we spend it as opposed to do we raise it. It probably will be raised this time."
Ramsey also noted Bredesen won't make any major changes this year to the Basic Education Program (BEP), the main funding vehicle for K-12 education in the state.
"If there is any change in the formula, there will be winners and there will be losers. You will just have to work it through the political system," Ramsey said of altering the BEP.
Ramsey pointed out that as lieutenant governor, he has the power to make several political appointments, and one will be naming a Northeast Tennessean to be on the Tennessee Judicial Selection Commission, which has power over selecting state Supreme Court judges.
"It's been pointed out to me that there has never been anyone on that commission east of Knoxville, and the next appointment will be east of Knoxville," Ramsey said.
Ramsey said that one change in his political life has been having a state trooper as his driver and security detail. For years, Ramsey drove his personal vehicle back and forth to Nashville.
"I kind of fussed about it a little bit," Ramsey said of the change. "They said, ‘Ron, you don't understand. You are second in succession to the governor. There are certain things that you agreed to in being lieutenant governor, and that's the way it is.'"
"Legislative Chat" is scheduled to air Sunday at 11 p.m. on WETP-TV, Channel 2.