David Hawk Seeks Speaker post

Special to The Daily News

Republican state Rep. David Hawk, an opponent of the 2017 IMPROVE Act and gas-tax increase, delivered the second shot for the House Speaker’s post, entering a race expected to hotly contested as the 111th General Assembly prepares to convene.

David Hawk

Glen Casa

Curtis Johnson

Hawk, a 16-year House member and assistant majority leader from Greeneville in East Tennessee, is likely to face substantial opposition from House Majority Leader Glen Casada of Williamson County and House Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson, a Republican from Clarksville who announced his candidacy in early summer.

They are the projected trio seeking to fill the position being vacated by Beth Harwell, who opted to leave the Legislature this year to run for governor, finishing fourth in the Republican primary. The House Republican Caucus, which holds 74 of 99 seats going into the election, will select the speaker in late November.

Saying he isn’t gunning for second place, Hawk touted his efforts in forming policy and putting together budgets rather than focusing on politics as he introduced his run for the post. Hawk said he has a “strong feeling” Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Lee will be the state’s next governor and opted to take a page out of his playbook and stay “100 percent positive” during the campaign.

“I want to create a committee system that works and makes sure legislators are successful and their districts are successful,” Hawk said.

Hawk acknowledged he isn’t likely to spend as much money as his potential opponents or be as “politically connected,” but he pointed out he will donate funds to Republican candidates’ fall general election campaigns if they make the request.

Instead of a political player, the East Tennessean described himself as a “hard worker” who knows how to deal with the governor’s administration and the Senate and who understands the strengths and weaknesses of the judiciary.

Hawk said he hopes nobody holds a “grudge” against him in this race, in regard to the 2017 debate over the IMPROVE Act and accompanying fuel-tax increase, which is designed to expedite the state’s road and bridge construction program. Hawk opposed the IMPROVE Act and called for using some $2 billion in excess funds rather than backing a combination of the gas-tax increase and reductions in food, Hall income and business taxes.

Yet he noted, “It is a clear difference between myself and potential other folks who may run for speaker. ... Again, I was asked by 37 Republicans to put forth a plan that we felt could work, would work and those folks voted in favor of what became known as the Hawk Plan.”

And he said he learned early in his legislative career not to hold “a grudge” against fellow lawmakers because he might need their votes the next day to push a bill through a committee or to win passage of legislation on the House floor.

Hawk said he believes the House speaker needs to be an innovator and visionary and promised he would make committee appointments without favoritism. He also said he would fall somewhere between longtime House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, a Democrat who ruled with an “iron fist,” and current House Speaker Beth Harwell, who he characterized as “more hands off.”

Despite downplaying the importance of finances, Hawk could face a significant disadvantage.

Casada reportedly budgeted $206,000 from his political action committee to put together a staff and make donations to Republicans he backed in the recent Republican primary, considered a move to gain backing in the House speaker’s race later this fall. So far, though, he hasn’t made an official announcement he is entering the speaker’s race. He was defeated by Harwell in 2010 when he made his first attempt.

Hawk had $109,370,000 in his campaign account at the end of July, according to state records. Casada had more than $334,500 in his latest report and $135,800 in his political action committee, while Johnson had $98,000 in the bank after making donations of $19,000 to legislators seeking re-election and a couple of new candidates.

Reached for comment, Casada called Hawk “a friend” and said having more legislators run for leadership positions gives the Republican Caucus more choices and ideas to debate.

The majority leader noted he didn’t support the IMPROVE Act until after Hawk’s plan failed twice in committee and because he felt steps needed to be taken to build more roads and cut the Hall and food taxes.

“The divide is I’m intimately involved in the day-to-day affairs of members, be it the race or with their bills, helping them pass their bills. I’m just a hands-on manager, and I think that’s the dividing line between me and whoever else runs,” Casada said.

Noting he hasn’t announced his intention to run, Casada said he still expects to be heavily involved in Republican House candidates’ general elections and is putting together a budget for the fall.

Johnson downplayed his donations to sitting legislators, pointing out he has donated to Republican lawmakers for years to help them win re-election. He said he doesn’t believe the looming caucus vote will be based on how the candidates voted on the IMPROVE Act.

“I think it will be decided on who has the best leadership qualities, has the most steady hand at the wheel, someone that can continue moving our state forward,” Johnson said.