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VOL. 37 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 01, 2013

‘Bad cop’ McCormick tries to reign in fellow Republicans

By Robert Sherborne

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State Rep. Gerald McCormick

State Rep. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), says he sometimes has “to play the bad cop.”

As the House majority leader, he’s the one who often tells legislators a pet project in their district will not be funded to keep the state’s finances in order.

“It’s about actually governing,” McCormick says.

This session, he’s clear about his top priorities:

“I want to pass a balanced budget, I want to make Tennessee a more business-friendly state, and I want to finish our business early and go home.”

Making the state more “business-friendly” will entail changing the workers compensation law, which aids workers injured on the job.

“We need to cut the costs of this program, especially for large manufacturers,” he says.

Other issues high on the agendas of some legislators draw a more tempered response from McCormick.

Some, for instance, have introduced legislation that would prohibit the state from expanding Tennessee’s Medicaid coverage to more lower-income residents, as part of the new federal health care law.

Several hospitals have said this would cripple them financially and may force them out of business.

McCormick says the legislature should give Gov. Bill Haslam time to fully explore the issue and to talk with federal officials about what is possible.

“We need to take time and make the best decisions,” he says. “We need to do what is good for the long-term.”

Similarly, McCormick believes legislators should “go very slow and carefully” when considering a school voucher program that would allow students to attend the schools of their choice.

McCormick, who first came to the legislature in 2005, traces his interest in politics to his high school days in Memphis.

Rep. Gerald McCormick

Represents: District 26, which encompasses a portion of central Hamilton County including the communities of Middle Valley, Lakesite and Harrison

First served in the General Assembly: 2008

Personal: Married with two daughters. He is a graduate of University of Tennessee-Knoxville and U. S. Army veteran of the First Gulf War. He works as a commercial real estate broker.

Contact: (615) 741-2548, rep.gerald.mccormick@capitol.tn.gov

“Originally, I was a Democrat,’’ he says.

A history teacher first piqued his interest, and that interest was reinforced during a high school trip to Washington, D.C., where McCormick met Sen. Ted Kennedy and Harold Ford Sr., among others.

At the University of Tennessee, where McCormick earned a degree in political science, he says he served as president of the College Democrats.

Then he went to war.

After marrying his college sweetheart and moving to Nashville while his wife was in graduate school, McCormick’s National Guard unit was mobilized for the Gulf War. He spent seven months overseas.

When he got back, he relocated to Chattanooga where his wife had returned home. There, he set up a real estate firm.

In 1992, McCormick ran for the legislature as a Democrat – and lost.

But, McCormick says, his Republican opponent persuaded him he would be more “at home” with Republicans than with Democrats, given his belief in limited government.

McCormick became deeply involved in local Republican politics during the next several years. When his state representative retired in 2004, McCormick ran for the seat and won.

After arriving on Capitol Hill, McCormick says, he is proudest of his efforts to ensure that large, urban school districts get fair funding and for helping lure a Volkswagen auto plant to Chattanooga.

His Republican colleagues elected him their majority leader in 2011. As leader, McCormick says, he carries all of the governor’s legislation in the House, as well as negotiating with the Senate and with the minority.

Legislators must often compromise, he says, forgoing what they see as a perfect solution to achieve what is really possible.

Take the proposed expansion of gun-owner rights.

One popular proposal, which passed the Republican-controlled Senate 28-5, would allow gun owners with carry permits to keep their weapons locked in their trunks or glove boxes while at work.

However, some business owners say they would like to keep guns off their property and out of their parking lots.

“I think it’s important to preserve the Second Amendment, as well the rights of property owners,” McCormick says. He believes by the end of the session “we’ll have a compromise that will make everyone equally unhappy.”