The term political theater is used a lot, but rarely does it ring this true:
I’ve been engaged in Democratic politics for quite a while, and I honestly can’t remember the last time they did something this clever.
First, a little history. For the first time in nearly 140 years, Republicans are the majority party in the Tennessee House, enjoying a 50 to 49 edge in the 99-seat chamber. State Rep. Jason Mumpower (R), anxious to pursue a far-right agenda, was excited about becoming the first Republican House Speaker since Reconstruction, and had already secured the support of his caucus.
But this morning, when state lawmakers met to elect the Speaker, something amusing happened.
When lawmakers returned from break, now an hour into session, they tackled the Speakers position. Representative Jason Mumpower of Bristol received the first nomination. Republicans hoped to end the nomination process there, but after more political wrangling, allowed Democrats to submit a candidate.
What happened next some may describe as the political play of the decade as all 49 Democrats backed Kent Williams, a Sophomore Republican from Carter County, a district just miles from Mumpower’s hometown.
During the voice vote on the Speaker’s position, the House clerk called every Democrat first, then every Republican, except Williams. The 49 to 49 split was then decided by Williams.
Williams accepted the position amid cheers and boos, prompting state troopers to enter the House chambers ready to respond to an outburst.
Keep in mind, this development is about more than just political maneuvering. The Tennessean reported, “Tuesday’s political whirlwind, which opened the 106th General Assembly, may stop the GOP agenda in its tracks — one that was likely to include a raft of legislation favorable to business interests, such as tort reform and changes to medical malpractice laws.”
As one might imagine, Tennessee Republicans are very unhappy about this surprise outcome. The caucus promptly kicked Williams out of their next caucus meeting and are currently plotting their next move.