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Dem, GOP Leaders Differ on Wilder, Kurita, and Who Wins State Senate in 2008

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On Tuesday, the two major party leaders of the currently deadlocked Tennessee state Senate made competing claims about whether Democrats or Republicans would control the chamber after the 2008 statewide elections. Upon the defection from Republican ranks last spring of Republican Micheal Williams of Maynardville, who supports the Democrats in procedural matters, the count became 16 Democrats, 16 Republicans, and one independent, Williams.

"The tide is turning," said Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis in a telephone chat from Nashville on Tuesday - meaning that the attrition factor which had worn away at his party's dominance of the Senate for a decade or so had been reversed. As evidence of a pervasive Democratic trend, Kyle pointed to the recent capture of the Virginia state Senate by Democrats and to the resounding special-election victory in Tennessee's District 10 of Democrat Andy Berke over Republican Oscar Brock.

The latter victory was all the sweeter, said Kyle, because it came in the wake of the potentially debilitating resignation from the seat of longtime Chattanooga Democrat Ward Crutchfield, who had pleaded guilty to an extortion charge in the Tennessee Waltz scandal.

"We're going to run in every district, and we'll win," Kyle said.

"He's dreaming," said Republican Senate Speaker and lieutenant governor Ron Ramsey of Kyle's claims. Ramsey, in town to address the East Shelby Republican Club, said in fact that Kyle's departure from reality had begun with the "nightmare" of his own unexpected victory for the speakership on January 9th of this year.

Ramsey's win in January had been thanks to a surprise vote for him by Democrat Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville, who departed party ranks and thereby ousted longtime Speaker/Lt. Gov. John Wilder of Somerville, the octogenarian who had served as Senate leader for 36 years until this year.

After the "on again, off again" transfer of party power of the 2007 legislative session, the GOP would regain control of the Senate in 2008, Ramsey said confidently.

The two leaders also had varying viewpoints on whether Wilder would attempt reelection - and another try at the speakership -- next year. "He'll have to decide how badly he wants to serve in the Senate for four more years," was the cautiously stated estimate of Kyle, who almost certainly will be a candidate for the speakership himself.

Ramsey was less uncertain. "If he's living, he's running," the GOP leader said bluntly of Wilder. If Wilder does run, he will likely be opposed by Republican state Representative Dolores Gresham, also of Somerville, who has announced her candidacy and is actively sounding out support.

Ramsey and Wilder also had differing attitudes toward Kurita. The Republican, who had, as virtually his first act as Speaker, appointed Kurita Senate Speaker pro Tem (ousting Williams in the process), spoke fondly and familiarly of "Rosalind," while Kyle, when asked earlier in the day how he and Kurita were getting along, said simply, "We don't."

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