Bredesen cautions Ron Ramsey about new challenges
Newly elected Tennessee Republican Lt. Gov. and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Tuesday he'll take a bipartisan approach to leading the Senate in this legislative session.
After making history in unseating longtime incumbent Democrat Lt. Gov. John S. Wilder of Mason by an 18-15 vote with the votes of all 17 Republican senators and Democratic state Sen. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, Ramsey pledged to share committee chair positions with Democrats.
Ramsey said Kurita realized it was time for change.
"I can honestly say she didn't ask for anything other that I be fair," Ramsey said of his talks with Kurita. "I promised her that I would be fair, and I'll appoint some Democrat committee chairs, and that this will be a power sharing. ... She did this to prevent that in the end if nobody would have got 17 votes, it would have been a slash and burn atmosphere. ... She always votes her conscience and convictions."
Ramsey said state Sen. Mike Williams, a Maynardville Republican who voted for Wilder two years ago but cast his vote for Ramsey on Tuesday, probably won't continue in his position as Senate speaker pro tem.
"Mike never told me he was for me, but I appreciate him voting for me in the end," Ramsey said of Williams, whose senatorial district includes Hawkins and Hancock counties. "At the same time, he never ever committed to me. I asked him three times yesterday (Monday), and never once would he give me an answer."
Ramsey, a Blountville auctioneer and Realtor, is the first Republican since Reconstruction to hold the lieutenant governor's and speaker's post.
After the Senate election, Ramsey talked about being a unifier after his emotional opening remarks.
"I want to take a sense of purpose that we work together, and I truly mean this in a bipartisan way to make Tennessee even a better place to live," Ramsey told senators. "We want to encourage a strong economy with good jobs for the people of Tennessee. A strong economy requires a world-class education system, and we'll do everything we can to make that a reality.
"I want to work with the governor and the House of Representatives to improve Tennessee's health care. And we're going to work to create a sound fiscal policy throughout the state, and we'll do that without a state income tax."
Ramsey said he was humbled and honored by the Senate's decision. He thanked God, his wife Syndy, his family, and Sullivan and Johnson countians in his 2nd Senatorial District.
Ramsey also thanked the people of Tennessee - "the ones who get up and go to work, the ones who take care of their families, the ones who make this state work and we're here to serve them."
Then Ramsey thanked Wilder, who had led the Senate since 1971 and narrowly defeated Ramsey in a Senate election two years ago.
"You've been a steady hand leading us in the Senate for many years," Ramsey told Wilder. "You've served us through thick, through thin, through good times and bad times, and I want to personally express my gratitude and personally thank you for everything you've done for the state of Tennessee."
Afterward, Ramsey encouraged senators to focus on what's best for Tennesseans.
"That's the reason we serve," he said. "Some will call this a historic day. For the first time in 140 years, a Republican presides over the Senate. But you know, I prefer to call it a day that we just move on with the business of the state of Tennessee marked by the beginning of a new General Assembly where Republicans and Democrats work together to improve the lives of Tennesseans."
In recent days, Ramsey said he had purposely refrained from talking with reporters about the Senate election.
"I wanted to make sure that all this we worked so hard for stayed together," he said. "I saw no good that could come out of me talking to the media. I know after the Democrats had their caucus last Thursday, they were obviously in disarray. The less I said, the more people realized I had 16 rock solid votes, and all I needed is one more."