Republican Ron Ramsey said Wednesday that he's fully aware of the high expectations associated with his new job as Tennessee's lieutenant governor and Senate speaker.
"I went in this morning to the property assessor's office to pick up a plat of a survey I'm working on for an auction, and a lady said â€˜Now we can get our red light at the end of Exide Drive (located near Bristol Motor Speedway),'" Ramsey, a Blountville auctioneer and Realtor, related. "I hope I will be able to live up to those kinds of expectations."
Ramsey said he knows Northeast Tennesseans are going to want more than just one red light in his new leadership role.
"I'd like to think we can get some road projects that we've needed that have been idling for a few years - in particular 357 (also known as Airport Parkway South). I talked today with the Tennessee Department of Transportation to see if we can get that off center," Ramsey said. "I realize the pressure is on me. I understand that. If I'm here for Northeast Tennessee, I hope to be able to deliver. ... When the lieutenant governor calls, people return his phone calls. Hopefully I'll be able to serve my constituents better than I have in the past."
The lieutenant governor also has the power to appoint people to a number of state boards and commissions.
"The list (of boards and commissions) is about three pages long and single spaced. I have already had calls from constituents and people in this area who realize we have those committee appointments, and hopefully we will get some of those from Northeast Tennessee," Ramsey said.
Ramsey said he has all but finalized senators' committee assignments, which are expected to be released Friday.
He noted the assignments could be affected by a Senate Democratic Caucus meeting on Friday. Ramsey said there will be an effort at the meeting to oust state Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville, from his position as caucus chairman. State Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, wants to unseat Haynes, according to Ramsey.
"It is the tradition of the Senate Democrat Caucus chairman to serve on (the Senate) Finance (Committee)," said Ramsey.
Ramsey has promised to name "some" Democrats to chair Senate committees. In contrast, Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh named Democrats to chair all House committees.
Ramsey did not say where former lieutenant governor and Senate speaker John Wilder, whom Ramsey defeated in a Senate election last week, will serve on committees.
"I hope to have him on some prestigious committees," Ramsey said of Wilder, D-Mason. "Actually, he is a fiscally conservative pro-business vote. As a Democrat he is very good. He is very familiar with the state budget and business issues."
Ramsey is the immediate successor to the governor's office if there is a vacancy. He also presides over a Senate that has certain powers different from the House. For instance, the Senate has the power to try impeachment proceedings initiated by the House. Any officer of the state may be impeached, but two-thirds of the Senate must concur before removal from office occurs.
Power also attracts money, which means Ramsey is expected to be able to raise additional funds for his campaign account, his leadership political action committee (PAC) and other Republican candidates through individual and PAC contributions.
Ramsey will also serve on the State Building Commission, which oversees construction of all state public buildings and has the authority over most acquisition, disposal, improvement or demolition of real property owned by the state with the exception of roads, highways and bridges.
As a legislator, Ramsey promised to advocate a pro-business agenda in this year's session of the General Assembly. He will seek medical malpractice reform and a program to encourage students to stay in high school, as well as introducing local bills. As lieutenant governor and Senate speaker, he will be able to control the flow of legislation.
Ramsey also said he wants the Senate to revive consideration of a resolution that says "nothing in the Tennessee Constitution guarantees the right" to an abortion.
"We will advance that in the state Senate and put the heat on the House to pass that," Ramsey said of the resolution.
Ramsey also promised Senate action on improving health care and fixing illegal immigration.
One of his initial tasks has been working out senators' office assignments. Under Wilder's tenure, Senate Democrats have had their offices in the Legislative Plaza. Senate Republicans' offices have been on the third floor of the neighboring War Memorial Building.
"I more or less will leave that up to our new (Senate Majority) Leader (Mark Norris of Collierville) and (Senate Republican) Caucus Chair (Diane Black of Gallatin)," Ramsey said of the office assignments. "Hopefully when we get back to start the session, we will hit the ground running."