Four new state senators? Possibly

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

When state Sen. Mark Green is confirmed as the new Secretary of the Army (probably this summer) he must resign his state Senate seat, which triggers a special election to fill it until his term ends in 2020. Montgomery County Commission will appoint an interim senator for four months.

State Sen. Mark Norris, current majority leader, is widely mentioned as a new federal judge in Memphis, which would remove him from the governor’s race. He is 62 – older than what the Trump administration is looking for in new federal judges – but he has influential backers and could be tapped.

State Sen. Doug Overbey, 62, who had been mentioned as a candidate for governor, appears to have shifted his interest to the U.S. attorney position here in East Tennessee, while Jeff Hagood, who had previously expressed interest, appears to have considered the cut in pay he would incur if he were appointed. He may be interested in a position on the TVA board, which has three openings at present and two more in 2018.

Should state Sen. Ken Yager be appointed to the TVA board, there is unsettled opinion on whether he can hold both offices. Yager seems committed to staying in the state Senate if forced to make a choice. All are very able senators who have made their mark.

So it is possible that there are four Senate vacancies this year (clearly one) triggering four special elections for the Senate and four new Senators by 2018. This comes on top of the November 2016 statewide election, in which there was only one change in the Senate. The only sure election will be for the Green seat once he is confirmed.

■  House Speaker Beth Harwell is giving Gov. Bill Haslam fits over the gas tax with her endorsement of an alternative that does not raise taxes. She has decided that Haslam will not back her for governor next year and she should move to the right to win enough backing to win a four-way primary contest.

Also complicating the issue are the outnumbered Democrats who will decide whether this passes the House or not, since GOP members are badly split. If 20 Democrats withhold their votes, the gas tax hike will fail in the House. The Democrats will have a shopping list they want satisfied before they vote for the tax hike. Local state Rep. Rick Staples recently voted not to send the bill to the House floor.

■  Federal district Judge Tom Varlan, who is chief judge, had a full house on April 7 when his portrait was unveiled. Several people were there from his days as city law director, including former vice mayor Jack Sharp and his wife, Doris, along with former city council members Gary Underwood, Ed Shouse (now county trustee), Jean Teague, Ivan Harmon and Larry Cox, as well as former parks director Sam Anderson, former community relations director Tank Strickland, mayoral assistant Jeri Parker and this writer.

■  Knox County Trustee Ed Shouse turns 67 on April 22. He has previously served on the Knoxville City Council and Knox County Commission. Shouse has brought calm and integrity to the trustee’s office, lacking since Tommy Schumpert held it.

Leave a Reply