Tennessee Democrats might as well make up their minds that they'll have to share legislative power with the Republicans "for at least the next decade," said Memphis state Rep. Mike Kernell to a meeting of the Germantown Democrats at Fox Ridge Pizza Tuesday night. In making the statement, he tilted his flattened-out palm to and fro to indicate what he foresaw as an indefinite period of virtual parity between the parties.
In particular, said Kernell, the new arrangement in the state House of Representatives, whereby committee chairmanships and plum assignments are being shared equally by the two parties, will need to be observed for the foreseeable future.
The power-sharing arrangement in the House was devised by newly elected Speaker Kent Williams, a maverick East Tennessee Republican from Elizabethton who was elected with 49 Democratic votes plus his own. In something of a coup engineered by Democratic House leader Gary Odom of Nashville, Williams won the Speakership by a single vote over the Republican caucus designate, Jason Mumpower of Bristol.
Williams subsequently awarded chairmanships over several major committees -- notably Finance, Judiciary, and Health and Human Resources, to Democrats -- but distributed an equal number of other chairmanships to Republicans. Somewhat ruefully, Kernell noted that he had had to relinquish his own chairmanship of the House Government Operations Committee to Republican Susan Lynn of Lebanon.
Kernell, who assumed the vice chairmanship of Government Operations in the re-shuffle, praised Lynn as a "hard worker" and said he expected to be able to work satisfactorily with her.
It was Rep. Lynn who had figured in a demand by Germantown Republican Brian Kelsey that Speaker Williams be investigated for ethics violations in relation to an alleged former act of sexual harassment by Williams against Lynn.
As Kernell noted, Lynn herself had never requested such a review, and, as he informed his Democratic audience Tuesday night, the issue had become moot with a decision by the House Ethics Committee Tuesday that it lacked jurisdiction to deal with Kelsey's complaint.
Asked whether his own District 93 might be targeted for significant alteration if Republicans held their legislative majority after the next census, Kernell acknowledged that it probably would be, with the ratio of black to white voters tipped in favor of the latter.