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VOL. 131 | NO. 232 | Monday, November 21, 2016

Harwell Wins GOP Nomination for New Term as House Speaker

By ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – House Speaker Beth Harwell on Thursday won the Republican nomination to serve for another two-year term as leader of the lower chamber of the Tennessee General Assembly.

The former professor from Nashville defeated Rep. Jimmy Matlock of Lenoir City in a 40-30 vote. The vote came after a tumultuous year for the House amid a series of allegations of sexual harassment by Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham that ultimately led to a September vote to expel a sitting member for the first time in 36 years.

While Democrats criticized Harwell for not doing enough to go after sexual harassment, some fellow Republicans argued she did too much to facilitate Durham's ouster.

"This past year has been a difficult one on this body, but I commend you for remaining focused on what is important, and that is moving Tennessee forward," Harwell said.

The chamber has also been roiled by disagreements over a North Carolina-style bill to ban transgender students from using restrooms of their choice and an effort to make the Bible the official book of Tennessee.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam had opposed the bathroom bill and vetoed the Bible measure.

Matlock said his supporters had expressed disdain about what they see as outside interference with the chamber's initiatives.

Matlock said members told him: "Stop, push back, do not allow us any longer to be led by the media or the administration. We're the House; we will be the House; we want to rule as the House. We're separate."

The House Republican Caucus election followed an earlier meeting of the Senate GOP, which unanimously gave its nomination to Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge to succeed Speaker Ron Ramsey, who is retiring.

Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers, meaning that caucus nominations will likely make the final votes for speaker a formality when the Legislature convenes in January.

Harwell, who is considering a bid to succeed the term-limited governor in 2018 survived a concerted – and sometimes anonymous – campaign to remove her as speaker.

Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin was elected as majority leader, Rep. Curtis Johnson of Clarksville will remain speaker pro tempore and Rep. Ryan Williams of Cookeville will be the new Republican caucus chairman.

Harwell, who easily won re-election last week despite Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's strong showing in Nashville, said she looks forward to leading the chamber when Republican President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

"The change in the presidential administration will give us great opportunity that we better be ready to seize," she said. "I believe we will see a return of power to the states; I think we will be able to seek flexibility to seek our own Tennessee solutions."

Harwell became Tennessee's first female speaker when she was first elected in 2011. She has faced persistent criticism from a vocal group of conservative backbenchers but was easily re-nominated to the chamber's top leadership post in 2012 and 2014.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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