Harwell apparently hopes the conservatives in her caucus do not read the newspapers or watch FOX news. One would think that after seeing what the conservative members of the U.S. House Republican caucus did to Speaker John Boehner and his hand-picked successor, Harwell might tread lightly on the conservatives in her own body. This is especially relevant since conservatives in the Tennessee House make up a much larger percentage of the Tennessee House than do the House Freedom Caucus conservatives in Congress. There is even an organized, if somewhat mysterious organization called the Conservative Majority Caucus in the General Assembly. All the warning signs are there.
But Harwell either doesn’t understand the changing political dynamic or has chosen to ignore the recent object lessons being taught in DC. How else to explain her ham-handed response to the resignation of Rep. Mike Harrison? When Harrison (who, astute observers of Tennessee politics will remember, was one of the original “Naifeh’s bitches.”) decided to cash in and become a lobbyist, Harwell was presented with a choice: Would she use the opportunity to reach out to conservatives in the GOP caucus, or would she revert to her establishment roots and pick a reliable toady for a new chairman of the crucial House Finance Sub-committee?
She chose the sycophant. In so doing, not only did she flip off the conservatives, she violated rules that she herself laid down regarding committee and sub-committee chairmanships.
Harwell had a long-standing rule that members of leadership could not hold committee or sub-committee chairmanships. But with the appointment of Speaker Pro-Tem Curtis Johnson to chair House Finance Sub, she sent the clear signal that “rules are just for the little people” and the conservatives be damned. One legislator told RTP that the move was “positively Harwellian.”
Some apologists say Curtis Johnson will be an ally in one or two issues, such as eliminating automatic dues deductions for public employee unions such as the teacher’s union. We’ll see if that’s true. But does anyone seriously believe that when the chips are down and Harwell and leadership demand fealty that Johnson won’t fold like a cheap suit? Besides, their back up is that “rock” of conservatism, Charles Sargent. You remember Charlie: after his near-death electoral experience last election he ran around the LP telling everyone who would listen that he would “sponsor anti-Common Core legislation” and he would make sure conservative bills got a friendly hearing in his committee. Yeah, how did that work out?
Yes, Harwell is in a tight spot. But pissing off the Republican base is a rather interesting primary strategy for the Harwell for Governor campaign. No word on whether she also plans to have Rep. Rick Womick shot (blindfold optional) or former radio talkmeister Steve Gill arrested for sedition. Doing so would certainly be consistent with her most recent anti-conservative maneuverings last week.