KINGSPORT — Tennessee GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell promised Tuesday to treat Democrats with respect although Republicans appear poised to hold a supermajority in the General Assembly following the November general election.
Harwell, R-Nashville, spent Monday and Tuesday stumping for House GOP candidates in Northeast Tennessee.
“I told my members when I became speaker, I would be speaker for the entire body, and I would treat every member with respect, dignity and try to be fair to everyone,” Harwell said at a reception hosted by state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport. “It is my goal to make sure we continue that fine heritage of our state. I never wanted to see us get embroiled in the partisan bickering that exists in Washington, D.C., that has about brought this nation to its knees. I’m proud to say that our Republican majority, I think, has treated the Democrat Party with respect. ... I was there back when we were not always treated that well as a minority party. We haven’t treated the Democrats in a way we were treated. We are called to treat the Democrats in a way we would have liked to be treated. And if we do that, there’s no doubt in my mind we will be the majority party in this state for a long time.”
The state Senate’s political makeup is 20 Republicans and 13 Democrats, while Republicans hold a 64-34 majority in the House.
With those majorities, new district boundary lines were drawn and passed by the legislature this year based on the 2010 Census.
In the November general election, Harwell predicted “anywhere from two to 10” pickups of House seats for Republicans.
A GOP supermajority in the House, said Harwell, would allow her to suspend rules and move agenda items faster.
At the reception, Harwell praised Shipley’s work in passing synthetic drug legislation and the legislature’s moves to pass a balanced state budget, add to the state’s reserve fund, and lower the sales tax on food.
“We’re doing it right...” Harwell said. “We want to be the best place in the nation to own and operate a business. The U.S Chamber of Commerce put us as the fourth-best place in the nation to own or operate a business. ... We understand that if we’re going to bring the economy back, it’s not going to be some magic trick in Washington. ... It is going to be the small business owners who create those jobs.”
At the end of the reception, Harwell was asked about Shipley’s push for closed primaries in the state.
Shipley advocated closed primaries following his 10-vote win over former Kingsport Alderman Ben Mallicote in the August GOP primary.
Shipley said following the reception that closed primaries had moved to “about 10th on my list of priorities.”
Neither GOP Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Blountville nor Harwell has expressed support for the idea.
“Our party is continuing to grow,” Harwell said. “When it grows, people are going to make a decision not to be Democrats any more, and they are going to want to be in the Republican primary. We’ve got to tread carefully. I understand some people have a great concern allowing Democrats to vote in the Republican primary. ... We would have to change a lot. We would have to register to vote by primary, which we don’t currently do. We have a growing population that’s more and more independent in their thinking and not held to one party or the other. They will vote for the person.”
Harwell, a former Tennessee Republican Party chair, is currently serving her 12th term in the House.