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VOL. 132 | NO. 8 | Wednesday, January 11, 2017

McNally Voted Tennessee Senate Speaker

SAM STOCKARD, Nashville Correspondent

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Promising to maintain Tennessee’s strong fiscal standing, veteran legislator Randy McNally of Oak Ridge took the gavel Tuesday as Senate speaker, replacing Ron Ramsey, who over the last decade led a Republican majority to power in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Randy McNally

The Senate and House convened simultaneously for the opening day of the 110th General Assembly, which runs from 2017 through 2018, as House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican, was re-elected to the leadership post.

“During the last decade, Tennessee has been blessed with outstanding political leadership,” McNally said during an emotional and historic gathering in the Senate chamber as he became the 87th Senate speaker and second Republican in modern times. “Tennessee has cut taxes, eliminated wasteful spending and kept public debt to a minimum. Our nation’s credit agencies have rewarded Tennessee with AAA ratings. These ratings are a direct result of our fiscal discipline and strong economic policy.”

The outgoing chairman of the Senate Budget & Finance Committee laughed when asked if he would follow a saying by the late John Wilder, a longtime Democratic Senate speaker, to “let the Senate be the Senate.” But he said it’s important to give senators freedom to work, as Ramsey did as well.

“We represent different areas and we represent different constituencies, but I think it’s important that we come together and move the state ahead, and that’s a lot harder to do than saying it,” he said.

McNally, who received 29 votes in support with three abstentions from Democrats, called out Ramsey’s name when the House chief clerk asked whom he supported for the speaker’s post, which also holds the position as lieutenant governor.

Ramsey, with tears streaming down his face as he stood in the well of the Senate chamber, gave McNally a tight hug as he handed over the gavel.

Moments earlier, when McNally jokingly backed Ramsey to continue as Senate speaker, the retiring senator from Blountville in East Tennessee asked the body, “Does anyone want to change their vote?”

Ramsey, speaking to reporters, said he is confident McNally will carry Tennessee down the same path he paved, maintaining a fiscally conservative position, leading schools toward education improvement and upholding a good bond rating.

The Legislature also could be on the verge of increasing fuel taxes to build more roads and bridges without taking on state debt, Ramsey said.

“We’re on a great track, so I’m not too worried about things” under McNally’s leadership, Ramsey said.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris called Tuesday’s election of McNally a “seamless” transition of power in the Senate, a move forward with “consistent, conservative leadership, a great day for Tennessee.”

Norris, a Collierville Republican, nominated McNally for the post, using a quote from President Abraham Lincoln: “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

“I’ve seen the shadow and I’ve seen the tree in McNally. He’s straight and strong and true, and he casts a long shadow … because of the depth and breadth of his knowledge and experience. He’s thoughtful, quiet and a good listener and a good friend. He truly cares about what’s best for the state of Tennessee,” Norris said.

Over the decades of his legislative service, McNally played a key role in providing evidence to federal investigators in two investigations into corruption at the Capitol, in some instances wearing a wire to record conversations and help obtain convictions.

Sen. Reginald Tate, a Memphis Democrat who supported McNally for the post even though other Democrats abstained, including Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis, said he had no projection for McNally’s tenure had no problem backing him because of his character.

“The man’s cotton weighs what the man’s cotton weighs. He’s been straight with me whenever he’s been on the scale, so why not support him?” Tate said.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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