Political play of the decade?

In Tennessee, at least, Democrats know how to stay in control of the legislative branch.

Published January 14, 2009 3:10PM (EST)

After almost 140 years, Tennessee Republicans finally got a chance to hold power in their state's General Assembly. Thanks to some crafty manuevering by their Democratic colleagues, however, the GOP's moment in the sun was all but over in a matter of hours.

One of the first matters the new session had to take up was the election of a new Speaker. The Republicans had their candidate, Rep. Jason Mumpower, and by dint of their one-seat majority, they would have been right to assume -- as is normally the case in these matters -- that Mumpower would win the job. The Democrats had other ideas. They nominated a different Republican, Rep. Kent Williams.

The chamber's 49 Democrats all voted for Williams. Then 49 Republicans -- including Mumpower -- voted for their chosen candidate. And then the clerk came to Williams, who voted for himself, and lo and behold the minority party had elected the Speaker. Williams also helped the Democrats re-elect one of their own to the number two position in the body.

As you might imagine, the majority was not exactly happy with what had happened, and they kicked Williams out of their next caucus meeting. WDEF News 12, a local television station -- which says in its report that "some may describe [the vote] as the political play of the decade" -- quotes Rep. Gerald McCormick as saying, "I think we've elected a dishonest and dishonorable man to Speaker. He's made a joke of the government, he should be ashamed of himself, he's a bold face (sic) liar." 

Update: In the original version of this post, I had the chronology of votes wrong; it's been fixed.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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