Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's first-year job performance ranked either "always" or "often" excellent with eight Republican Senate colleagues, according to the results of a Times-News survey e-mailed to 32 state senators.
Senators were asked to rate Ramsey on a performance standards scale ranging from "always excellent" to "always unsatisfactory."
They were also asked to say what he was especially effective at doing and what he needed to do better in the next legislative session, as well as how his leadership style compared with former Lt. Gov. John S. Wilder of Mason.
Ramsey, a Blountville Republican, unseated Wilder in an 18-15 Senate vote last January to become the first Republican to hold the lieutenant governor's and Senate speaker's position since Reconstruction. Wilder had held the job since 1971.
Since being elected, Ramsey has presided over a Senate with 16 Republicans and 16 Democrats. State Sen. Mike Williams of Maynardville changed his political affiliation from Republican to independent in March.
State Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, said Ramsey was able to adapt to the evenly divided Senate.
"He sort of had to change gears, not having the (GOP) majority to being dead even," Burchett said. "But he's never been afraid to listen to the other side ... to the most partisan Democrat there is to the most partisan Republican. ... He picked the ball up and just kept running. I think his best leadership quality is being someone who actually listens. ... He gets it. He doesn't worry about the critics."
Other Senate Republicans also gave Ramsey high marks as a communicator and relationship builder.
"I liked his guidance and leadership," said state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro. "He crossed both lines working with the House - all of us not knowing how that was going to happen after 140 years (of Democratic leadership in the Senate). Every personality is different, but I think he and (House) Speaker (Jimmy) Naifeh worked well together. He had a good grasp on especially the budget process."
Ramsey is particularly effective at communicating "the Republican message" to the public and members of the General Assembly on both sides of the aisle, said state Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin.
"He has the respect of the General Assembly and therefore is able to strike the compromise for best public policy," she said.
State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said Ramsey knows how to get things done without getting people upset - much like former Gov. Ned McWherter, a Democrat.
"He really gives it his all to try to get you what you need but knows how to say no if he has to and still make you feel that he has really tried to help you," Crowe said of Ramsey. "He knows how to stay close as a friend, but at the same time, you never lose sight that he is the leader."
State Sen. Raymond Finney, R-Maryville, commended Ramsey's businesslike, efficient approach to conducting legislative sessions.
"He presided over an essentially smooth-running, harmonious legislative body. He created a more effective bipartisan atmosphere for all of us to better conduct our business," Finney said of Ramsey.
State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, liked Ramsey's "intuitive ability" to forecast what would happen to a piece of legislation.
"He demonstrates a gift for getting legislation in the correct posture so that it can be effectively dealt with in the House and by the executive branch," said Watson, a former House member. "This is no easy task with 131 other legislators and the executive branch each with their own opinion. That also means he has a thorough understanding of all the issues, which is not easy. Quite frankly, I was amazed at how well-versed he was in the myriad of issues being addressed by the Senate."
Only two Democrats, state Sens. Tommy Kilby of Wartburg and Douglas Henry of Nashville, responded to the survey.
Kilby did not rate Ramsey's job performance, but said he has been a "pleasure to work with" and "very fair" to him. Ramsey appointed Kilby to chair the Senate's Environment, Conservation and Tourism Committee this year. Henry gave Ramsey an "excellent" rating.
"We all have our political affiliations, however at the end of the day we need to do what is best for Tennessee. That is my desire, and I believe it to be the same for Speaker Ramsey," Kilby said.
Kilby said he didn't want to get into contrasting the leadership styles of Ramsey and Wilder.
"They are different men," Henry said of Ramsey and Wilder.
State Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, described Wilder's leadership style as more laissez-faire.
"(Wilder would) let things happen, whereas Lieutenant Governor Ramsey is certainly more hands on and more involved and taking risk and being more out front as a leader on issues," McNally said.
Burchett, who voted for Wilder as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor in 2005 but voted for Ramsey this year, indicated Ramsey was more understanding on sensitive votes.
"I can remember two or three bills where he would ask me how I was going to vote, and my vote was different than a lot of our members," said Burchett. "I said ‘Ron, I gave my word' and he would say ‘That's all I need to know.' There wasn't any retribution because he knew I had a constituent issue.
"Lieutenant Governor Wilder would say things like ‘I'm not going to tell you how to vote,' but you sort of knew how he wanted you to vote. Ron has never crossed that line with me. ... He wouldn't say ‘If you vote for this, I'll make sure you get this or that.'"
Crowe said Wilder's "ship zig-zagged left and right" to accomplish goals.
"Ron's ship took a much more straight ‘principled' line in accomplishing the mission, if you know what I mean," said Crowe. "I was really impressed with his ability to gain the trust of so many of the Democrat senators. I would say trust and his being straight in letting you know his direction was the big difference, as well as keeping the session ‘in control' especially at the end. We would have been there another week or so without his steadfastness."
Both Black and Ketron said Ramsey needs a working Republican majority in the Senate to do a better job.
"Lieutenant Governor Ramsey is much more engaging," said state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville. "I know for a fact that he takes his job very seriously, and he does it well. He has a vision for the Senate for this state. Tennessee is fortunate to have Ron Ramsey as lieutenant governor."
The Times-News survey was e-mailed to senators' legislative offices after the legislative session ended. State and business offices of those who did not respond were contacted by phone last Tuesday to give senators a final opportunity to participate. Responses were e-mailed, faxed and phoned in by senators participating in the survey.
Besides Williams and Wilder, those state senators not responding to the survey included: Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet; Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland; Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey; Jerry Cooper, D-Morrison; Ward Crutchfield, D-Chattanooga; Lowe Finney, D-Jackson; Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis; Thelma Harper, D-Nashville; Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville; Roy Herron, D-Dresden; Doug Jackson, D-Dickson; Jack Johnson, R-Brentwood; Rosalind Kurita, D-Clarksville; Jim Kyle, D-Memphis; Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis; Mark Norris, R-Collierville; Steve Southerland, R-Morristown; Paul Stanley, R-Memphis; Reginald Tate, D-Memphis; and Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville.