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Democratic leaders assess GOP takeover

Democratic leaders assess GOP takeover

Posted: Thursday, November 6, 2008 8:05 pm

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II Associated Press Writer NASHVILLE (AP) — Democratic leaders in both chambers say they’re not panicking following the Republicans’ total takeover of the Tennessee Legislature. The GOP tipped the balance of power by winning three contentious races in Tuesday’s election in the Senate and gaining four seats in the House to take control of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Unofficial but final results left Republicans with 19 seats in the 33-member Senate and 50 of the 99 House seats. Last session the Senate was split 16-16 with one independent while Democrats held a 53-46 majority in the House. House Majority Leader Gary Odom of Nashville said he’s talking with other House Democrats to “assess everything and determine what we’re going to do next.” “By all accounts, it’s not anything like I thought it would be,” said Odom of the Republican wins. “We got to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and move ahead.” Rep. Henry Fincher pointed to the fact that Republicans are now only ahead by one seat in the House, which means Democrats still have a chance to pass their agendas if there’s a Republican absence or “folks cross party lines.” “There’s another election in two years,” the Cookeville Democrat said. “We’re down at the half, but we’re going to be working hard to come back.” The tougher challenge may be in the Senate, where Democrats gave up three seats to Republicans. Despite the losses, Mark Brown, political director for the Senate Democratic Caucus, said Democrats put up a good fight. “We feel good that we had top-notch candidates,” Brown said. “We ran strong campaigns, with a strong message.” Gov. Phil Bredesen, who stumped for several Democratic legislative candidates during the campaign, told reporters he was disappointed with the election results even though he has tried to maintain good relations with both parties. “I’ve tried to govern from the center,” he said. “But having said that, obviously there’s a different political dynamic as you change control of these houses. I just regard that as one of the facts of life, and I’m going to continue on acting as governor as I have in the past.” With the Republicans in control, the position of House speaker and the state’s constitutional officers — secretary of state, treasurer and comptroller — are now in question. Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville, whose position appears secure, has said there’s no question Republicans will now look to put their mark on those offices when lawmakers reconvene in January. Bredesen implored Repub-licans to select people with specific expertise to fill those positions, not purely political appointees. “Given the financial issues we have right now … I truly need people in those jobs that have the professional credentials to do those jobs and hit the ground running,” he said. Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris of Collierville wouldn’t give specific names, but he said there’s also been a lot of interest in the constitutional officer positions, which are all currently held by Democrats. He didn’t rule out it staying that way. “To me, this isn’t about a political game,” Norris said. “It’s about a restructuring of state government and how we go about that.” Current Secretary of State Riley Darnell said he hasn’t talked to Republicans, but he’s doubtful they’ll nominate him as their candidate. “I’m a Democrat, and I’m not going to change my political affiliation,” Darnell said. House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, issued a statement Wednesday acknowledging the loss of seats was tough, but “I intend to lead and I look forward to the challenge.” Republican Rep. Beth Harwell of Nashville is one lawmaker who said she’d like to challenge for the speakership of her party, because she thinks she is “best to lead us through this critical time.” “I’m hoping they will be supportive,” she said. House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower — a likely candidate for the speakership — stopped short of saying he would seek the post. “I do plan to run again for Republican leader,” said the Bristol Republican. “The leader is, by our bylaws, a nominee for speaker.” ——— Associated Press Writer Erik Schelzig contributed to this story. Published in The Messenger 11.06.08

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