November 6 is not just the end of the campaign season; it is the beginning of a new era in Tennessee. The State of Tennessee will see many changes as the 111th General Assembly is seated. In fact, it will be the biggest turnover in recent history.
Over one-fourth of incumbents in the House of Representatives chose not to run for reelection, mostly due to retirement or to pursue another elected office. In the Senate, we already have three new members who were elected less than a year ago. In addition, two senators left to seek another elected office, one retired and another lost their primary election, meaning four more new members will be added as a result of the November 6 election.
Senate district elections will also be held to replace Senator Mark Green upon election to Congress and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, who was recently confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a federal judge for West Tennessee. The Senate has been very blessed to have leaders like them who have been elected or selected to federal service. It is a high compliment to the caliber of men and women who serve in this body. After their seats are elected, this means the Senate will have nine of the 33 members, or more than one-fourth, with less than one year of service as state senator.
Even these numbers do not tell the full story about the major changes that will occur in our legislature. Many in the top tier of leadership are among those who have retired or moved on to other positions. In the Senate, a new Majority Leader and Caucus Chairman will be elected on December 3. In the House of Representatives, a full slate of new leaders will be elected on November 20, including the top position of Speaker. Others are leaving their House leadership posts to seek that position, so we are looking at a new Speaker Pro Tem, Majority Leader and Majority Caucus Chairman in the House of Representatives.
But it doesn’t end there. Key committee chairs have retired, including the House Finance Chair, a committee which holds the purse strings for all state government and the Chairman of Education, which oversees all laws for K-12 and higher education in Tennessee. Their replacements will carry much weight in these key committees on two of the most important issues before our General Assembly: finance and education.
Another huge factor that will bring change to state government is the election of our new Governor. Governor Bill Haslam was limited to two four-year terms by the State Constitution. New governors generally fill their cabinets and other key state government positions with new leadership.
The 111th General Assembly will convene on January 8th at noon when new members will take the oath of office. A less known fact, however, is that the State Constitution provides that the term of office begins with the day of election in November. So although the oath will be administered in January, members of the Senate and House of Representatives begin serving their term of office immediately upon being elected.
That is not the case with the governor. The new Governor will take the oath of office on January 19th as prescribed by the State Constitution, and until that time, Governor Haslam will continue his duties. Also of interest is that the new governor will be Tennessee’s 50th. This is very appropriate given the new era of change that we will see.
We have much to be thankful for in Tennessee. Our economy is booming unemployment is at historic lows; our state’s finances are among the best in the nation, while our taxes are among the lowest. We need to continue moving Tennessee forward. At the same time, a fresh infusion of ideas can add to this positive course. I look forward to working with our new Governor, and both new and incumbent legislators, as we keep Tennessee moving in the right direction during the 111th General Assembly.