After Tennessee House Democratic Speaker Jimmy Naifeh announced committee assignments, House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol gave a floor speech Thursday indicating that Republicans are ready to wield their newfound power in the General Assembly.
Two days after Republican state Sen. Ron Ramsey of Blountville unseated Democrat John Wilder of Mason to become lieutenant governor and Senate speaker, Mumpower served notice that Republicans want to advance an agenda that includes reforming the state's immigration laws, improving education, and making sure Tennessee is a low-tax state.
Mumpower said Republican state representatives look forward to working with "our new leadership in the state Senate" - namely Ramsey - in enacting change although they are the minority party in the House.
"House Republicans have certainly had a long experience with the old conditions of state government, but a new dawn has risen, and a new order of things is at hand," Mumpower told lawmakers.
Wilder had served as lieutenant governor and Senate speaker since 1971, while Naifeh just began his ninth term as House speaker.
In particular, Mumpower said the idea of enacting a statewide property tax is a "non-starter" in the House Republican Caucus.
Last year, Comptroller John Morgan proposed the state could assume complete responsibility for funding public schools. The measure called for reallocating state sales tax revenues and levying a state property tax.
House Majority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville, took issue with Mumpower's reference to a statewide property tax.
"I haven't heard a member of my caucus discussing that issue," Odom, who grew up in Carter County, said after Mumpower's remarks. "I have heard members on the other side of the aisle discuss some new way of calculating how much people pay for gas tax ... (but) if we are going to debate issues, let's go ahead and get it on."
Early in his remarks, Mumpower acknowledged that Republicans nationwide in last November's elections "faced a tidal wave of defeat" by losing Congress and almost 300 Republican state House seats.
But in Tennessee, Republicans neither lost nor gained House seats, while Democrats kept their 53-46 majority.
"Many of you across the aisle also campaigned on similar promises of no new taxes, improving education, and putting an end to the problems caused by the issue of illegal immigration," Mumpower told House Democrats. "We look forward to working with each of you in a bipartisan manner to advance these conservative ideas."
While reaching out to Democrats, Mumpower said in a telephone interview that Republicans still have aspirations of unseating Naifeh as House speaker. By a 60-38 vote on Tuesday, Mumpower lost his bid against Naifeh to be House speaker. Seven Republicans, including state Reps. Mike Harrison of Rogersville and Kent Williams of Elizabethton, voted for Naifeh.
"I'm very grateful the overwhelming majority of Republicans voted for me for speaker," Mumpower said. "I think I received more votes than any Republican leader has ever received. I feel confident when we get to 50, we will have the votes we need to elect a Republican speaker."
In the meantime, Mumpower insisted he has a good working relationship with Naifeh, a Covington Democrat.
"We don't have a hateful relationship," Mumpower said of working with Naifeh. "We have a positive working relationship. ... He knows where I am, and I know where he is."