Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rocky Top Blowback (or, If You Thought Harry Reid Got Punked this Week, You're in for a Treat)

Remember when Jeff Wood got his committee chairmanship for being a turncoat a few months ago? Owen declared that Wood lacked integrity (but the guy did have weed) and several others weren't happy either. I'd love to see the reaction if this happened in Wisconsin:

In an extraordinary move in the opening session of the state legislature this afternoon, Republican Kent Williams won speakership of the House, beating veteran Democrat Jimmy Naifeh and Republican leader Jason Mumpower, who was widely expected to get the post.


The election of Williams was what Democrats called the “nuclear option:” electing a Republican who was friendly to Democrats, creating coalitions between the parties. As recently as Monday, Mumpower had dismissed such talk, saying that Republicans were united.


As the vote took place, the House chamber at moments erupted into near bedlam, with spectators raining down boos, hisses and angry shouts, all of which was quickly quieted when Naifeh threatened to have unruly audience members removed from the chamber.

Williams has been administered the oath of office, and speaking from the well, says "it's time to end the infighting and the bickering." Boos came from the gallery.

Republicans appeared shaken in the aftermath of the vote, and sat in stunned, stony-faced silence. During a recess preceding the vote for the number two speaker pro tem, Assistant Leader Glen Casada expressed his displeasure.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you open up a legislative session!

More background (and editorializing) from John Cole.

MORE: Wow, this is just a classic punking in every regard:
Republicans finally got a Speaker of the House, but not the one they wanted on Tuesday afternoon. Republican Kent Williams of Carter County voted for himself and got the support of all 49 Democrats to hold off Rep. Mumpower, who was the expected choice.

Republicans booed as the votes were tallied and they realized that Democrats, under former long time House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, had engineered the surprise maneuver.

All 50 Republicans, including Rep. Williams, had signed a pledge agreeing to vote for a Republican for House Speaker.

Some GOP members called Rep. Williams a "liar" and other epithets.

(emphasis added)
Well, he did vote for a Republican ... just not the one every other Republican voted for.

Making matters worse, this deal was months in the making and just 30 minutes in the execution:
The plot was hatched over coffee during the Thanksgiving weekend. House Democratic leader Gary Odom went to Elizabethton to meet Kent Williams at a restaurant. Out of the blue, Odom asked Williams how he'd like to be the speaker of the House.

"I think his first reaction was he thought I was joking because he knew Speaker Naifeh was working diligently to find the 50th vote," Odom told reporters a few minutes ago. "We were looking for an alternative in case it became necessary, and it became necessary."

That didn't happen, though, until 5 o'clock last night when Naifeh finally gave up on his own hopes and went to Williams to seal their deal. When the session started today, many Democrats weren't even aware of what was about to happen, Naifeh said. That's why Democrats moved for a 30-minute recess, to give themselves time to brief the party's members. (The wily Odom told the House he wanted the recess to give everyone time to take pictures with families in attendance on opening day.) Freshman Republican Terri Lynn Weaver, a gospel singer and apparently not the sharpest knife, unwittingly played into Naifeh's hands when she pushed the wrong button and mistakenly voted with the Democrats to allow the recess.
Oh, what might have been!
The R’s had promised bans on gay adoption and fostering, new concealed weapons laws, new constitutional limits on abortion, new anti-immigrant legislation, and mandating the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools. Because the Tennessee House operates under a strict committee system and the Speaker appoints all committee chairs, though, it is unclear whether Republicans will be able to get any of these measures to the floor of the House. In addition, the re-election prospects for the long-serving and widely-respected Comptroller and Treasurer (both Democrats) is now much more promising; the General Assembly votes for these constitutional offices tomorrow.
MORE STILL: Oh, no -- here's an interview, conducted yesterday, with the dud who totally thought he was going to go to bed tonight the Speaker of the Tennessee Assembly sounding almost like he's reading off cue cards written by Mike Huebsch.

And here's reaction from a pissed off state GOP chair:

“Kent Williams has betrayed his constituents and the people of Carter County in breaking his pledge — his signed oath — to vote for the nominee of the Republican caucus for Speaker of the House,” says Tennessee Republican Party Chairwoman Robin Smith.

“He lied, in a quest for personal power, in league with Democrat Speaker Jimmy Naifeh and House Minority Leader Gary Odom, in their desire to retain power despite the results of the 2008 elections.”

EVEN MORE: Williams apparently knows he's a dead man:

Williams acknowledged on the floor that he likely now will be kicked out of the Republican party, though he promised to run the House in a bipartisan manner.

And, sure enough, he's not long for the GOP's world:

A GOP move to strip Williams of his status as a Republican began tonight when 18 members of the party's State Executive Committee presented to Chairman Robin Smith a petition challenging his status.

That action triggers a review under party bylaws that Smith said would move swiftly.

The Republicans charged that Williams broke a signed oath to vote for the House Republican Caucus nominee for Speaker, Rep. Jason Mumpower. However, the letter signed by Williams and the 49 other House Republicans pledges only to support "a Republican" for speaker, not the caucus nominee.

And here's a lovely detail:

Republican spectators in the gallery erupted in loud boos when the vote was announced.

They booed him again when he took the podium, and someone shouted “traitor” as he pledged to be bipartisan. Republican representatives on the floor remained stony-faced.

In the aftermath of the booing, two state troopers entered the chamber and stood on both sides of the speaker’s podium.

Here's an interesting nugget of on-the-scene reporting from the statehouse just before the vote:

Friends and family of Republican lawmakers crammed into the House chamber well before the session was set to convene at noon, while more subdued Democrats didn't filter in until the last minute.

I guess we know know why the Dems were a little late to the party...

Actually, here's a bit of pre-reporting that ran this morning:

As the 106th General Assembly convenes at noon today, there will be the customary backslaps and handshakes, as well as the stories and pranks, that accompany the giddy start of every legislative session.

Not so much after all, it would seem...

Here's an interview with the Tennessee GOP Lt. Gov./Speaker of the Seante (or however the hell they do things down there) counting chickens before they have hatched.

And last, but certainly not least, here's some more color from the Nashville Post:

Democrats pulled the old switcheroo and put Williams into office to cries of "traitor" from some members of the Republican caucus. Williams had been considered a target for a Democratic vote but had maintained all along that he would vote for a Republican. In the end, he did, voting for himself.

Williams took to the well and said he understood why he was being booed and asked all to hear him out. He acknowledged in his address that he would likely lose his next election, but then said, "Today is the day that ends the reign of a great speaker, Jimmy Naifeh. Today, I realize the disappointment and hurt of a lot members, especially our leader Jason Mumpower."

But here's the best part: Blame the freshman!

Today's drama began when Democratic Leader Gary Odom motioned for a 30-minute recess after members were sworn in, to which Mumpower vehemently objected. As Speaker of the 105th General Assembly, Naifeh still presided and quickly gaveled for the recess.

Mumpower then called for a vote, which he lost when freshman Republican State Rep. Terry Lynn Weaver of Lancaster voted with Democrats. As the vote was made official, Republicans could be heard shouting for her to change her vote, which she did not do in time.

Republican legislators claimed after the vote that she had hit the wrong button. Nevertheless, it was an inauspicious beginning to her legislative career and the new Republican majority.

I really could just rip the whole story off it's so good -- instead, why don't you just go there yourself and soak in the glory which is this masterwork. If you need any more incentive, here's the graphic the editor decides to run alongside the story:


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