Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey lost one major political battle on Capitol Hill, but he said Wednesday that his first year presiding over the Senate was a success.
The Blountville Republican managed a Senate with 16 Republicans, 16 Democrats and one Independent, state Sen. Mike Williams of Maynardville.
Williams, a former Republican, cast the swing vote for a 42-cent per pack cigarette tax increase opposed by Ramsey and all other Senate Republicans.
"There weren't many votes like that," Ramsey said of the cigarette tax vote while reflecting on the end of this year's legislative session.
Ramsey pointed to what did get done on his Senate watch: Education funding reform with increased accountability; adding $250 million to the state's Rainy Day Fund and lifting the fund to a record $750 million in savings; and passing a $38 million crime package.
In addition, lawmakers passed a half-cent reduction in the state's 6-cent tax on food and created another three-day sales tax holiday to be held in March 2008.
"We did put that money to good use at least," Ramsey said of the state's record surplus fueling passage of a $27.9 billion budget. "We passed a crime package that all the local DAs (district attorneys) and police departments wanted to help them deal with criminals. We had the biggest investment in the history of the state of Tennessee dealing with education as well as a revamped BEP (Basic Education Program) with accountability in it. ... I would have liked to have had more tax relief, but we have to deal with the House. ... The bottom line was we still had control of (Senate) committees."
Ramsey noted the Senate session ended on a partisan note as Democrats tried to lower the grade point average standards on lottery scholarships. Ramsey said he was able to muster 21 votes to get senators to adjourn before addressing the matter.
But Senate Democrats, who saw Lt. Gov. John Wilder's three-decade reign end with Ramsey's Jan. 9 appointment as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor, were also feeling good about themselves after adjourning.
"We might have started the session on a low note with the speaker's vote, but we were definitely riding high by the time it closed," Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville, said in a prepared release.
Near the end of the legislative session, the Tennessee Democratic Party took aim at Ramsey's handling of the Senate with this statement: "The long legislative season has been attributed to Republican Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey's freshman handling of parliamentary proceedings."
Ramsey, who used his auctioneering skills in running Senate sessions, responded: "Everybody to a tee when I walked off the (Senate) floor my fellow senators said I did a great job this year. Are they saying if 86-year-old John Wilder would have been there things would have gone more smoothly? That is absolutely laughable."
Ramsey said that this summer he'll be out raising money for Republicans and working to unseat Williams, whose 4th Senatorial District includes Hawkins and Hancock counties. Church Hill attorney Mike Faulk, a Republican, is expected to challenge Williams for the seat in 2008.
Ramsey said he may also be doing some campaigning for likely GOP presidential hopeful Fred Thompson.
"They may have me traveling around the country speaking for him some," Ramsey said of Thompson, a former Tennessee U.S. senator and television actor.
For more about Ramsey go to www.legislature.state.tn.us.