Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has one issue that has drawn little attention that he wants to pass through this session of the legislature: redrawing the state’s judicial districts.
These districts, which define the areas overseen by judges and district attorneys, have not been refined since 1984.
“The population has changed, but not the districts,” Ramsey says. “I am bound and determined to tackle that.”
Ramsey says he expects pushback from judges and district attorneys, whose jobs may on the line. But, as leader of a 26-7 Republican majority in the state Senate, a 70-28-1 Republican majority in the House and a Republican governor, he is optimistic.
“I think we’ve got a good team that works well together,” he says.
Another key initiative Ramsey sees is a school voucher program being spearheaded by Gov. Bill Haslam.
The expansion of gun-owner rights is also on the agenda, with Ramsey saying, “I’d like to get that behind us.”
Ramsey, who in 2007 became the first Republican speaker of the Senate since Reconstruction, sees his party’s gains in recent years as reflecting the underlying beliefs of most Tennesseans.
Curiously, he notes, he grew up in a family with a long Democratic tradition.
“My father was a Democrat till the day he died,” Ramsey said. Yet, the Senate leader’s political views were shaped by other forces.
Growing up on a small farm in Blountville, just south of Bristol, Ramsey said he listened to the late radio commentator Paul Harvey and “it sounded like what I believed.”
Later, the words and actions of President Ronald Reagan helped convince Ramsey he was conservative.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
Represents: State Senate District 4, which includes the extreme northeastern Tennessee counties of Sullivan and Johnson, and a portion of Carter County
Personal: Married with three children
Religious affiliation: Methodist
Contact: (615) 741-4524, firstname.lastname@example.org
Still, he said, his entry into politics came by “accident.”
After graduating from East Tennessee State University, Ramsey set up a surveying firm, and then expanded into real estate sales. In 1992, he attended “Realtors Day” at the state legislature and became interested in the process.
On returning to East Tennessee, Ramsey said, he talked with his local legislator, Jim Holcomb. Ramsey says he asked Holcomb to let him know when he didn’t want to run again because he wanted to run for the seat.
To his surprise, Ramsey said, Holcomb phoned him a few weeks later, saying he had decided to run for the state Senate and had told the local newspapers that Ramsey was running for his House seat.
Ramsey went on to win that 1992 House race. Four years later, he was elected to the state Senate when the incumbent left to run for Congress.
Over the next decade, Ramsey watched the legislature’s Democratic majority slip away.
In 2004, Republicans won a one-vote majority in the state Senate and, when the legislature convened the following year, Ramsey challenged longtime Democratic Lt. Gov. John Wilder for the top job.
Ramsey lost when Republican senators failed to unanimously support him. He prevailed two years later and was elected Speaker of the Senate.
Since then, he said, he has tried to move the state in the direction he believes most Tennesseans want.
He has named committee chairmen he believes are pro-business. He has overseen changes in education, like the creation of charter schools, which he sees as “revolutionary.” And, he has fostered proposed changes in the way Tennessee Supreme Court and other appeals court judges are selected.
Ramsey’s ascendancy has not been without bumps. He ran for governor in 2010, losing the Republican primary to Haslam.
There are no hard feelings between the two men, Ramsey says, as they work toward common goals.
“I don’t see how our relationship could be better,” he said. “We talk, text or email about every day.”