Tears of Rage in Tennessee

As entertaining as national politics can sometimes be, there’s really no substitute for the low-down, dirty dealings that take place every day on the state and local level.

Recent developments in the Tennessee House of Representatives leadership fight inspired us to giggle, but some House members didn’t find them funny, not one bit.

In fact, some of them openly wept!

Let’s set the scene. The TN House has been held by Democrats since 1971. Granted, a Tennessee Democrat is a more conservative bird than his northeastern cousin, but nevertheless, the GOP has been on the outside looking in for over three decades.

That all changed in the 2008 elections, when Republicans, led by brash leader Jason Mumpower, stormed to a narrow – but decisive – 50-49 advantage.


Leader Mumpower, a noted lover of comic books with a gleaming dome, announced that his mandate would hearken a new day in the Tennessee House. Traditionally – that is to say, under Democratic leadership –  committee chairmanships have been assigned proportionally, so that a party with a substantial minority would still enjoy significant legislative power.

Not this time, said Leader Mumpower. The GOP’s historic victory would mean that the winner would take all once he became Speaker.

For obvious reasons, the Democrats didn’t like this idea very much at all. Their leader, longtime Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, had finally been dethroned by the Republicans after many attempts to take him down in the past. One clever GOP move was to persuade Naifeh’s own personal doctor, an African-American with the potential to steal the very substantial black vote in his district, to run against him.

That gambit failed, as did all others…but finally, Naifeh’s reign was at an end through the power of the electoral process and the ascendancy of the Tennessee GOP.

Or was it??

The NASHVILLE SCENE’s excellent reporter Jeff Woods delivers the goods:

Like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner, House Republicans never seem to win in the end. In one of the craziest days in the history of the Tennessee General Assembly, a Republican finally was elected House speaker–it just wasn’t Jason Mumpower.

Jimmy Naifeh did it to them again. He’s smarter than he seems.

It was a raucous session complete with catcalls, boos, and derisive laughter from Republican lawmakers and supporters in the gallery. Democrats nominated two-term Republican Rep. Kent Williams for speaker, and then promptly elected him 50-49, with Williams voting for himself. Mumpower and friends, a surprised “we-are-so-fucked” look on their faces, sat in stricken silence as the vote was taken.

Some Republicans actually cried.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey called it “a travesty.” Later, the new House coalition of Democrats-plus Williams elected Democrat  Lois DeBerry over Republican Beth Harwell as speaker pro tem.

“Any  more outbursts,” Naifeh warned more than once, “and I’ll have the people removed  from this chamber.”

There were cries of “traitor,” and Channel 4 reports a trooper had to go into the gallery and calm down one guy. Republicans booed as Williams went to the House well to speak. “I’d appreciate it if  everyone in this chamber would just hear me out,” Williams shouted. “I’m a Republican but not for much longer because you guys are going to kick me out, probably.”

“It’s time to end the in-fighting and bickering and just looking out for yourselves,” he said to loud snickering in the chamber.

Then to add insult to injury, Williams said to more boos, “Today comes the end of the reign of a great speaker, Jimmy Naifeh.”

We’re thinking Republicans now are regretting campaigning  against Williams in his party primary last year. State GOP chair Robin Smith immediately issued a denunciation of Williams.

“Kent Williams has betrayed his constituents and the people of Carter County in breaking his pledge – his signed oath – to vote for the nominee of the Republican caucus for Speaker of the House. He lied, in a quest for personal power, in league with Democrat Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and House Minority Leader Gary Odom, in their desire to retain power despite the results of the 2008 elections.”

In an unusual move, Highway Patrolmen stood guard at the podium when Williams walked up to it, and troopers surrounded Williams as he left the chamber and ducked into the speaker’s office. I think it’s safe to say that emotions are running a little high here.

Mumpower and his fellow caucus members are not going to let this stand without some serious fighting. He’s got some dirt on the new Speaker and darn it all, he’s gonna let that shit fly!

NASHVILLE — The state House Ethics Committee voted unanimously Wednesday against pursuing an ethics complaint against new Speaker Kent Williams in connection with a sexual-harassment allegation two years ago by a female lawmaker.

Rep. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, filed the ethics complaint last week. He called the panel’s decision “a mockery of ethics.”

The committee of six Democrats and six Republicans agreed to a motion by Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, not to proceed with Kelsey’s complaint based on the staff attorney’s advice that the committee is not the proper venue to pursue a sexual harassment issue.

Meanwhile, the victim of the alleged harassment, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, was hospitalized “for stress-related symptoms caused by the incident under discussion,” she said in a statement. “I have been released from the hospital, and I am now resting at home.”

Speaker Williams would pay $700 to see this lady naked.

Kelsey filed the complaint last week, charging Williams sexually harassed Lynn and that he “made false statements” about it when he told reporters last week that he had never sexually harassed anyone and had never been reprimanded for harassment.

The episode is part of the fallout from Williams’ upset election as speaker Jan. 13. A second-term GOP lawmaker from Elizabethton, Williams voted with all 49 Democrats to elect himself speaker over GOP Caucus nominee Jason Mumpower, 50-49.

Kelsey’s complaint revolves around incidents in early 2007. According to a memo released last week by Mumpower, Lynn said Williams approached her March 27, 2007, in the legislative parking garage and told her, “I will give a week’s pay just to see you naked.”

After Lynn complained to Mumpower, the House GOP leader summoned all parties into his office; Williams apologized and promised it would never happen again, according to the memo. But eight days later, Lynn called Mumpower to report that Williams came up behind her in the legislative lobby, “put his arm tightly around her and embraced her,” according to the memo.

Mumpower called another meeting, and Williams again apologized.

Lynn did not file a formal sexual harassment complaint or lawsuit and the matter was dropped until last week, when Mumpower released the memo that he had written for his files.

Meanwhile, Jeff Woods reports that Mumpower has gone a little crazy: first ranting about a “web of lies” – inspired by Spidey, perhaps?

Next, Mumpower started showing up at the House chamber with a somewhat bedraggled look:

Al Gore was cheated out of the presidency. He grew a beard and ate too much. Jason Mumpower is denied the House speaker’s gavel. He grows a goatee, takes off his blue suit and puts on a weird sweater vest. Why is he doing it? As always, Pith in the Wind is here to examine the weighty issues of the day.

Mumpower laughs off questions about his strange new look. “It started out as a little joke and it’s still here,” he says of his fuzzy whiskers. “I’ve never tried to do anything like that before and I’m just amazed at how much hair I have on my chin in relation to what I have on my head. I really didn’t know I could do it.”

mumpower goatee

“Would you have grown it if you had won the speaker’s race?” we ask.

“Oh, it has nothing to do with that,” Mumpower replies. “Literally I didn’t shave at all from Thursday to Sunday” after losing the speaker’s election.

“You were depressed?” we ask, cleverly probing Mumpower’s psyche.

“I’ve never been depressed in my life. No, that has nothing to do with it.”

But of course Mumpower would say that. He’s clearly in a state of denial.

To Leader Mumpower and the TN GOP, we dedicate this mournful melody.


About Alpine McGregor
Just like you, man. I got the shotgun, you got the briefcase. All in the game, though, right?

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