State GOP leader sees tide turning in Legislature


Photo by Dave Boyd
Tennessee Republican Party Chairwoman Beth Harwell believes the GOP can win control of the Legislature in the not too distant future.

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com
Tennessee Republican Party Chairwoman Beth Harwell wants to make history.
As the state GOP's top advocate and a House member representing the 56th District, she believes the day is nearing when Republicans capture a majority of seats in both houses of the Legislature for the first time ever.
"When Republicans take control of the General Assembly, we will decide who the secretary of state is, who the speaker of the house is and who the comptroller is," Harwell told members of the Carter County Republican Party at a breakfast held in Elizabethton on Friday.
Harwell said Tennessee Republicans had two immediate goals: Delivering the state to President Bush in his reelection bid and winning a majority in the Legislature. The GOP needs two seats in the Senate and five in the House to gain a majority. Harwell is realistic that the majority will not happen overnight, or even over one election cycle.
"It is not a sprint, it is a marathon," said Harwell, who represents Davidson County in the House of Representatives. "There needs to be a balance of power. We need to be taken seriously in state government."
The Tennessee Republican Party's political action committee, TeamGOP, is targeting several Democrats in next year's election, including Speaker of the House Jimmy Naifeh as well as the upstate's Rep. Nathan Vaughn, D-Kingsport. Vaughn narrowly won his first term to the House last year in a run-off to replace the late Keith Westmoreland.
A state legislator since 1988, Harwell is a professor and graduate of Vanderbilt University and Lipscomb University. She said the GOP had been gaining momentum for some years among Tennesseans who she felt had their values best represented by Republican leadership.
Harwell said the state GOP planned to organize Republican party groups in all 95 counties by the end of the month. State and federal party primaries are set for February, after the Legislature voted to move party primaries up one month. She also said the party was taking nothing for granted in the presidential election next year. George W. Bush won the state's 11 electoral votes in the 2000 presidential election, besting native son Al Gore.
"(The president) is doing what's right and he's doing it well," she said. "He has proven himself to be a strong, steady leader."
Harwell also said Republicans were "disappointed" by Gov. Phil Bredesen's statements critical of President Bush at a Democratic rally held earlier this month. The Leaf-Chronicle newspaper in Clarksville reported that Bredesen criticized the president at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Robertson County on Sept. 7. Speaking about the federal No Child Left Behind standards championed by the president, Bredesen remarked "The president. I can't even say 'our president' or 'my president' anymore," according to the Leaf-Chronicle.
Needless to say, the remark raised hackles of state Republicans.
"It is an embarrassment," said Harwell. "I find it difficult to refer to him as my governor."
Fellow GOP lawmaker Rep. Jerome Cochran, R-Elizabethton, who attended the meeting also expressed his disappointment with the governor's choice of words. He also voiced his displeasure at the salary paid to new state Lottery Corporation chairwoman Rebecca Paul who was hired away from the Georgia Lottery Corporation last week.
"I'm not comfortable with this extravagant salary we are paying the lottery expert," he said.
Paul reportedly could earn approximately $750,000 a year if she meets all goals and incentives. Her base salary will be $350,000. Cochran compared the Paul's compensation to former University of Tennessee President John Shumaker, who resigned last month amid an investigation into his salary and spending habits. Shumaker's base salary was $365,000, with a total compensation package up to $733,000.
"You don't pay these salaries until you see what they can do," said Cochran of executives charged with running state operations. "I think this is saying the wrong thing."