Political institution cites Tennessee incident while discussing Republic power struggle

Published 9:18 am Monday, October 12, 2015

Former Speaker of the Tennessee House Kent Williams

Former Speaker of the Tennessee House Kent Williams

On Thursday, we learned that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had withdrawn his candidacy to be the next Speaker of the House.
The decision has led to a lot of speculation, not only about why McCarthy made the decision, but if the dog is wagging the tail in the House.
A battle among House Republicans, between the moderates and the conservatives, seems to be an indicator that the Republicans can’t agree enough to create a majority. The conservatives don’t have enough votes to create a majority, but they certainly have enough to prevent the needed votes from being cast for someone they don’t approve of.
So what is next? Political research organization Brookings Institution of Washington D.C. suggests maybe Nancy Pelosi could pick the next Speaker. Although they say that’s unlikely, many in the GOP have professed their frustration with having the minority among them taking control of their party.
Of course, this is a national issue, but Brookings decided to single out Tennessee and, more interestingly, Carter County’s Kent Williams as a “model” that would suggest that, as crazy as it sounds, maybe Pelosi could pick the next Speaker.
Here’s what Brookings had to say on that matter: “In 2008, Republicans took control of the Tennessee House of Representatives (for the first time in nearly 40 years), setting up the unseating of the Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh—who had held the post for 18 years.
“However, the GOP majority was razor thin. They held a 50-49 majority, and so, Tennessee House Democrats had a plan: pick a Republican, convince that Republican to vote for himself for Speaker of the Tennessee House, and prompt every Tennessee House Democrat to do the same.
“Enter Kent Williams. Kent Williams was (is) a mainstream conservative from Eastern Tennessee and to that point was a lifelong Republican. He agreed to try to become the new Speaker of the House. In a stunning reveal, during the election on the House floor, the Speaker-designate, Jason Mumpower was defeated and Kent Williams was elected the 80th Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives. In a very unique twist, every vote for Speaker was cast for a Republican (either Mumpower or Williams), and coy and keen political strategy led to an upheaval in Tennessee politics,” the Brookings Institution report said.
“The Williams experiment was short lived—he served one term as Speaker and returned as a rank-and-file (then independent) member of the Tennessee House. However that term was characterized by a leadership style of compromise, balance, respect, and relative calm (except for protestations from House Republicans bitterly outfoxed in the political arena).”
So could something of that nature happen at the national level? That is something that remains to be seen. But if a mainstream Tennessee Republican could work out such a strategy, imagine what Pelosi could do.
Brookings points out that Pelosi could possibly make it work, with several “ifs,” “ands,” and “buts.”
IF Pelosi could unify the Democratic Party, only 30 Republicans would need to join in to elect the next Speaker of the House.
IF she could find a moderate Republican, Brookings says, that all House Democrats would support, and who would be willing to take the post, then maybe, just maybe, she and that candidate could find at least 29 other Republicans to go along with the strategy.
It’s a wild idea — pretty crazy really — to think something like that could happen. But, the article in Brookings concludes, “So, Nancy Pelosi could take a page out of the Jimmy Naifeh playbook and try to play kingmaker. And hey, you don’t have to be in the U.S. House to be elected Speaker, so maybe Kent Williams should throw his hat into the ring.”
And after all, in politics — whether it’s in Carter County, in Tennessee or at the national level — you just never know.

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