NASHVILLE (AP) — Republican Beth Harwell won’t have to worry about a renewed challenge from the man she defeated to become the first female House speaker in state history.
Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin told The Associated Press that he won’t make another run at the chamber’s top job despite the defeat of seven Republican House incumbents in last week’s primary races.
“Beth’s done a good job and I will be supporting Beth for speaker next year,” Casada said in a phone interview.
Casada was considered the favorite for the speakership after Republicans picked up 14 seats in the 99-member chamber in 2010. But Harwell, a former professor and state Republican Party chairwoman, won the caucus nomination in a secret ballot.
Among those losing their seats on Thursday were Republican Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart of Hendersonville and Education Chairman Richard Montgomery of Sevierville. Casada said he doesn’t see the election results as an anti-incumbent trend or a rejection of Harwell’s leadership.
“I was surprised that there were seven incumbent Republicans that lost, but if you sit down and look at it, on each race I don’t think their loss were in any relationship to the other six losses,” he said.
Maggart’s race was dominated by the National Rifle Association spending more than $75,000 to vilify the incumbent for her alleged role in defeating a measure to guarantee employees to store firearms in vehicles parked at work. The measure was opposed by business groups, higher education officials on safety grounds.
Harwell, Gov. Bill Haslam and fellow Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville agreed that the NRA-supported bill was too broad.
Gun advocates, tea party groups and some conservative Republicans have complained that Harwell is too moderate to lead the GOP-controlled chamber.
Haslam, who counts on Harwell as a close ally, said he welcomed Casada’s decision to endorse her for another term as speaker.
“He’s been a great partner to Beth while I’ve been there and I would have been really surprised if he did run,” the governor told reporters after a higher education discussion in Memphis.
Casada said he may instead run for chairman of the House Republican caucus this fall, a position he held before his ill-fated bid for the speakership.
“There’s a caucus chairman spot that’s open now, and that has my interest again,” he said.
Despite a spirited caucus campaign between Harwell and Casada speaker in 2010, she named her rival as chairman of the House Health and Human Resources Committee after winning the race.
Casada was the sponsor of a bill to require popular election contests for state Supreme Court justices in August 2014. That proposal went against the wishes of Haslam, Harwell and Ramsey, who want to keep the current system of retention elections in place and put a constitutional amendment on the matter before voters in November of that year.
Casada’s bill failed on a 7-7 vote in a House committee in April.