Thursday, January 6, 2005



Posted By on Thu, Jan 6, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Amid reports that the number of Republican senators ready to reelect John Wilder as Senate Speaker is actually growing, State Senator Curtis Person (R-East Memphis, Germantown) reaffirmed his support of octogenarian Wilder Thursday and said he had a firm commitment from the state’s venerable lieutenant governor that Wilder, a nominal Democrat, would reverse current committee ratios favoring Democrats.

“He has assured me he will appoint a majority of Republicans,” insisted Person, who has been hotboxed relentlessly by fellow Republicans favoring the speakership candidacy of senate Republican caucus chair Ron Ramsey of Blountville.

Person, a longtime Wilder ally, owns one of four senate chairmanships held by Republicans at present. The Democrats, as of now, have five chairmanships of the nine standing senate committees., as well as majority memberships on the committees. The divided authority, unlike the wall-to-wall Democratic chairmanships in the state House, is a consequence of the bipartisan coalition Wilder put together back in the mid-‘80s when dissident Democrats tried to unseat him as speaker.

Person, along with Republican senator Tim Burchett of Knoxville, has stood by his allegiance to Wilder, though other Republicans have suggested that the two GOP senators should feel released from their pledges of loyalty if Wilder, who is certain of reelection next Tuesday, did not commit himself to a majority-Republican committee structure. The GOP achieved a majority of one in the Senate after last November’s elections. Wilder is not expected to make any formal statements about the body’s committee structure until Thursday when he will release committee lists.

Various ranking Republicans, as well as GOP grass-roots organizations, have promised to see to primary opposition for Person, who is up for reelection himself in 2006 and affirmed Thursday that he would run again.

Among other Republican senators reported as possibly ready to vote for Wilder on Tuesday are Micheal Williams of Maynardville, Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, and the newly elected Jamie Hagood, formerly a state representative, also from Knoxville.

If Wilder does indeed end up naming five Republicans as committee chairs, one of the currently serving five Democratic chairmen will have to step down -- a fact that has prompted a good deal of speculation by observers, as well as nervousness on the part of the Democratic chairmen. The five Democrats now chairing committees are: Doug Henry of Nashville, Finance; Thelma Harper of Nashville, Government Operations; Jerry Cooper of Morrison, Commerce; Steve Cohen of Memphis, State and Local Government; and John Ford of Memphis, General Welfare.

Among the rumored solutions is the proposed shifting of one of the Democrats from his or her chairmanship to the face-saving position of Senate Speaker Pro Tem, which came open when Gallatin Democrat Jo Ann Graves, who held the title, was defeated in November.


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