Ron Ramsey says his election as Tennessee lieutenant governor and Senate speaker last Tuesday apparently generated political shock waves in more places than just Capitol Hill.
"This has really rocked the state," the Blountville Republican said of his election. "There are those down here saying jokingly ‘Do you remember where you were when Kennedy got shot? Do you remember where you were on Sept. 11, 2001? Do you remember where you were when Ramsey was elected speaker?' Because this was huge. After nearly 40 years, an institution is moving in a different direction."
Ramsey, who defeated 35-year incumbent Lt. Gov. John S. Wilder of Mason in a 18-15 vote, is moving forward with the transition to his leadership and has some major decisions to make in the coming days.
Those decisions mainly center around which senators will sit on standing committees. Ramsey has indicated he will share "some" committee chair positions with Democrats, as Wilder did in the past.
Ramsey promised to announce those committee assignments on Friday. He wouldn't say if state Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, would continue to chair the Senate Finance Committee or if state Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, would still chair the Senate Education Committee.
The Senate Finance Committee holds power over the state's budget process, while the Senate Education Committee could have a major say over possible education funding changes this year. Ramsey also said he hasn't made his Senate speaker pro tem choice, although he previously said state Sen. Mike Williams wouldn't retain the job. Williams, R-Maynardville, sided with Wilder in the 2005 Senate speaker and lieutenant governor election but voted for Ramsey last Tuesday.
"I just don't want any speculation on who is going to get what until it is out," Ramsey said of the committee chair appointments. "Senator Henry has done a good job. ... (Woodson) may have been the best education chair we've ever had. She is well-qualified for about anything she wants. Everything is on the table. We're moving names around in our minds. We haven't really started this formally yet."
In contrast, Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh has named Democrats to chair all House committees.
Ramsey also has committee decisions to make about state Sen. Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, the lone Democrat to vote for him last Tuesday.
"I voted Tuesday for a genuinely bipartisan Senate that will provide clear direction and be held accountable to the voters of this state," Kurita said in a prepared release. "The new lieutenant governor assured me he would be fair to Democrats and would avoid the scorched-earth partisan politics we see at the national level."
Ramsey insisted he'll be able to work with Democratic lawmakers and with Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, who will take the oath of office for a second term next Saturday.
"Everything will be fine," Ramsey said. "We'll be able to govern. The governor knows I can work with him. I think it was a signal when the governor said ‘I'm staying out of that race (when Ramsey ran against Wilder last Tuesday).' Why would he stay out of a race when there is a Democrat incumbent? He realized we'll work well together and it was time for a change."
Ramsey, an auctioneer and Realtor, also indicated he will be spending more time being a lawmaker and politician now that he is lieutenant governor.
"I will still have my auction business," he said. "I still need to make a living ... even though the lieutenant governor pay did go up into the $50,000-a-year neighborhood, but I will keep my auction business going."