Strong Message

There will be a little soiree in Knoxville in November that will have political reverberations across the state. It is, ostensibly, a fund-raiser for House Speaker Kent Williams' PAC and the money will be used to support Republican legislative candidates next year.

But the most significant thing about it may be the host committee—it includes 30 Republican members of the state House. You will remember that the state Republican Party threw Williams out of the party because he voted with the Democrats to make himself Speaker. It has been widely assumed that Williams will be a flash in the pan, one-term speaker.

It doesn't mean the 30 people helping with this fund-raiser will support Williams for speaker next time; it isn't a commitment on their part. A majority of the House Republican caucus has decided to join with Williams to raise money to help keep their majority in the Legislature. It is a far cry from the anger and frustration evident at the beginning of last session. The Republicans are willing to set aside anger and the actions of the state party and unite for next year's election. One wonders if the Republican state executive committee will have the sense to come to the same conclusion.

Another thing it demonstrates is the idea that House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower will make a comeback is a fantasy. One of the House members on the Williams host committee is state Rep. Glen Casada, the House Caucus Chair and a Mumpower lieutenant.

Another Republican House member may emerge as a challenger to Williams as speaker next time around; there is another election and another session to get through before it comes up, in 2011. But for now, he is leading his members and uniting them. It has escaped media attention, but Williams' PAC has already donated the maximum $7,500 to the campaign of Republican Pat Marsh in a special election being held down in Shelbyville. This despite Marsh facing a Democratic opponent and Williams getting elected speaker with Democratic votes. He did this while the state Republican Party continues to insist that he is no longer a Republican and can't run as a Republican in his re-election next year.

The Mumpower faction is now just that—a faction. And it's getting smaller all the time. Three of its members, Stacey Campfield, Brian Kelsey, and Susan Lynn, are running for the state senate and won't be around for the next House caucus election. They are not on the host committee. There is some question whether Mumpower will even seek re-election to his House seat next year.

Most observers think Williams will easily win re-election to his Carter County seat next year. The question for the state Republican Party will be whether he will run and be elected as a Republican or whether he will have to run as an independent. The party finds itself excluding from its ranks the Speaker of the House, a Republican member of their slim House majority, and a leader of fund-raising efforts to keep Republican control of the House. The majority elected next year will be in charge of redrawing all the legislative districts after the 2010 census. It is an untenable position for the state party. Members of the House Republican caucus realize this and have refused to expel Williams from the caucus.

The Knoxville event is organized by lobbyists Mike Alder and Joe May, public-relations guru Susan Williams, and state Reps. Frank Niceley and Joe McCord. Another host is Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "JJ" Jones. It will be Nov. 6, the night before the UT-Memphis game. The venue will depend on the crowd.

The Republican House members who are on the host committee include: Niceley, Harry Brooks, Ryan Haynes, Bill Dunn, David Hawk, Matt Hill, Mike Harrison, Joe McCord, Richard Montgomery, Dale Ford, Bob Ramsey, Steve McDaniel, Dennis Roach, Curry Todd, Jimmy Eldridge, Curtis Halford, Jim Coley, Ron Lollar, Kevin Brooks, Vince Dean, Chad Faulkner, Beth Harwell, Philip Johnson, Eric Swafford, Charles Sargent, Steve McManus, Jim Cobb, Judd Matheny, Eric Watson, and Glen Casada.