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VOL. 38 | NO. 14 | Friday, April 4, 2014

Could Ramsey really win a statewide race?

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A few years ago, before Bill Haslam took office, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen was mentioned as the front-runner for the position of secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration.

For a whole 24 hours, according to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Bredesen was going to be named as a member of Obama’s cabinet. If that happened, Ramsey would be next in line to be Tennessee’s governor.

Ramsey says progressives around the country complained loud enough that Bredesen didn’t get the nomination. Instead, it went to Kathleen Sebelius.

It was closest Ramsey has gotten so far to the governor’s office – including his 2010 Republican primary campaign against Haslam, when he finished third behind runner-up Zach Wamp.

Today, we know the right-leaning, tea party champion Ramsey wants to win statewide office, be it as governor or senator, and he has not shied away from taking the more moderate Haslam to task, using the powers available to him, such as, perhaps, calling a special session to override any – or all – of Haslam’s vetoes.

Ramsey’s reasoning is that he doesn’t think that a governor should be able to veto legislation after the legislature has adjourned and headed home.

So, Tennessee has a sitting governor, expected to easily win re-election in November, whose veto may be meaningless. Clearly, Ramsey doesn’t kowtow to the governor.

So is Ramsey serious about the session or posturing?

“It’s also something that is a threat at this point in time,” says Dr. John Geer, chair of the political science department at Vanderbilt University and co-director of the Vanderbilt Poll.

“It is an indication that (the Republican supermajority is) worried about some of the actions the governor might take. Of course, the governor, in this case, does not have a veto like the president does or most of the other governors in the country. It overrides at 50 percent.

“Whether that is something (Ramsey) would literally do or not do, it would be an interesting development if he choses to take down one particular bill or a set of bills.”

A special session of this type would make for lively political theater.

Ramsey

“Vetoes are a part of the legislative process,” says Kent Syler, assistant professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University. “However, when you have a Republican governor and two overwhelmingly Republican legislative bodies, they become a little more interesting.”

One wonders how interesting it could get. How much trouble could Ramsey make for Haslam? How far will Ramsey go to position himself for a run at statewide office?

“It’s probably more indicative of the kind of factions within the Republican Party right now,” Syler adds. “In 2010, when Speaker Ramsey ran for governor, he had the backing of the tea party. Gov. Haslam staked out the more moderate part of the Republican party.

“This is a kind of dance between the tea party part of the party and the moderate part of the party.

“And those are going on all over the country. That really makes this a little interesting.”

Maybe the Republican Party of Tennessee is having these struggles inside the walls of their own offices.

“It’s an ongoing struggle in the Republican Party that we see here in Tennessee, but we see it largely in the country, as well,” Geer adds.

“There is a battle between purist and pragmatist. Between people who want to pursue conservative policies like Gov. Haslam versus people who are pursuing even more conservative policies, and often, they are not willing to compromise on them.”

Tennesseans voted for Haslam instead of Ramsey because they wanted a leader who could work with others.

Ramsey’s tea party stances might play well in some parts of Tennessee, but the moderate conservatives come out on top statewide.

Who will win out in the long run?

“That’s a hard call right now,” Syler says. “If you look at who typically gets elected to statewide office, you would say that moderates are winning. Part of that has been because the more conservative parts of the party have typically run more than one candidate in the primary.

“So it’s kind of worked out that way in the last two or three races. I think it’s a little tough to call as to who is winning.”

The winners may emerge more clearly after this legislative session. Will the speakers of the House and Senate call a special ‘override’ session?

Will Haslam’s meth and voucher proposal pass the General Assembly, or will others hijack the proposals and make it their own?

Will the governor give up more of his appointment powers to the speakers?

With Haslam’s easiest election ever coming up, and the supermajority most likely to grow, we can rest assured that the next four years will continue to be a clash between the tea party conservatives, led by Ramsey, and the moderates Republicans, led by the Haslam.

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