Back in December I wrote that if state Rep. Jason Mumpower negotiated all the pitfalls and indeed delivered himself 50 votes on opening day he would have demonstrated the political skills necessary to be Speaker of the House.
He didn’t. It was a devastating blow when Republican Kent Williams joined 49 Democrats to make himself speaker in Mumpower’s stead. It was also a blow to the Republican caucus, the party, and thousands of Republicans who had worked so hard for so many years to overcome Democratic hegemony in the House.
Reeling from that loss, Mumpower and his allies have been unable to appreciate subsequent developments. Republicans chair half the House committees. Republicans have replaced the constitutional officers. They will control the state election commission; they have majorities on all the local election commissions. They control the state building commission. Republicans will see bills that have been bottled up in committee for years coming to the floor for a vote.
On the other hand, Mumpower has had his feelings hurt.
It is regrettable, though understandable, that Mumpower has tried to throw the speaker out of the Republican caucus, out of the party, and reduce his caucus to minority status again. It is likely Mumpower reached the apogee of his political career with the 49 votes for speaker. To come back after such a defeat would be difficult. But his attitude since losing the speaker fight has almost guaranteed it.
It’s likely he was aware, if not instrumental, in having Republican Party chair Robin Smith throw Williams out of the party. Then he set out to remove Williams from the Republican caucus. He tried to say he could do it unilaterally, without a vote of the caucus. When that didn’t work he was faced with backing down or asking for a vote of the caucus. Either route was untenable. When he polled the members, he discovered it wasn’t even close. Most of the Republicans would not vote to throw the speaker of the house out of their caucus.
Mumpower no longer controls his caucus. When a majority leader asks his members for an important vote and they reject him, it is a fatal wound. It is analogous to a party leader in a parliamentary system that loses an important vote—it calls for a new election either to recommit to the leader or to pick a new one.
Williams is in control of the House. He also appears to be in control of the Republican caucus. As someone observed to me on a recent visit to Nashville, he may not be as smart as he thinks he is, but he is a lot smarter than his enemies think he is.
In several conversations over the course of a week, it was obvious to me that Williams is no one’s puppet. He may have taken an offer from Minority Leader Gary Odum to take the speaker’s post, but he doesn’t have any strings on him. He also has been out-maneuvering Mumpower since.
When Smith announced his expulsion from the party, the normal human response might have been for Williams to fire all the Republican committee chairs and replace them with Democrats. But Williams didn’t do it. He voted for the Republican constitutional officers, he kept the Republican chairs, he has been peeling off Mumpower supporters one by one.
It is in Mumpower’s best interest and that of the caucus for him to step aside as Republican leader in favor of Caucus Chair Glen Casada or some other Republican who can provide leadership and win caucus support.
Williams will be re-elected; Smith’s actions have ensured the voters of Carter County will send him back. The Republicans might pick up a seat in the next election and presumably have the votes to replace Williams as speaker. But Williams has two sessions to win friends and influence people. He has been successful at it thus far.
Given Mumpower’s leadership of late, it is not likely that he can get 50 Republican votes in the next General Assembly to be speaker. He will face a challenge from someone within the caucus. It’s better for the caucus to pick a new leader now.