Reps. Kevin Brooks and Eric Watson were administered the oath of office and were officially sworn into the Tennessee House. Sens. Todd Gardenhire and Mike Bell took the oath and swore to represent Bradley County. Gardenhire is a freshman senator representing the redrawn 10th District that includes parts of Bradley and Hamilton counties.
Oaths in the House were administered by Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary R. Wade while Justice William C. Koch Jr. performed the function in the Senate.
"Taking the oath of office is both an exciting and humbling experience,” Gardenhire said. “I look forward to representing the citizens of Hamilton and Bradley counties and welcome their input on the issues we face.”
Gardenhire is one of eight new state senators, the largest number of freshmen in the Tennessee Senate since 1969. Republicans have a supermajority of 26 Republicans and seven Democrats.
Other organizational tasks this week include the adoption of Senate rules, election of the state’s constitutional officers and election of the members of the General Assembly’s Joint Fiscal Review Committee. The General Assembly will then recess for two weeks to allow for office assignments.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks said legislators are looking to build upon the success of the previous session that saw wasteful government spending cut from the budget, taxes cut for all Tennesseans, measures passed to encourage job growth, and numerous government reforms.
He said lawmakers have already signaled clear goals of balancing the budget, lowering the grocery tax and ensuring every Tennessee student has access to a high-quality education.
“This will be a very productive year and I believe Tennesseans are going to be proud of their representatives,” Brooks said. “Unlike the U.S. House in Washington, we get the job done, we balance our budget and we return home to our jobs and families.”
Brooks introduced the Rev. Kelvin Page, senior pastor of Westmore Church of God, as the chaplain of the day who opened the 108th General Assembly with prayer.
Page prayed that legislators glorify, consult and consider God throughout the new session and remember the source of their authority.
Brooks then led the Pledge of Allegiance. Following that, he introduced Melinda Doolittle, of Franklin, to sing the national anthem. Doolittle finished third in the sixth season of American Idol.
Rep. Beth Harwell was unanimously elected to a second term as speaker of the House and Sen. Ron Ramsey began his third term as speaker of the Senate by a 29-4 margin.
“I have often said it matters who governs,” Ramsey said. “I look forward to proving that statement true once again as we continue to answer November’s resounding call for less spending, more jobs and smaller government. I especially look forward to continuing this Legislature’s commitment to efficiency. Our last two legislative sessions were the first to end ‘on time’ in well over a decade. We plan to continue that tradition. The days of legislative sessions dragging into May and beyond are over.”
Ramsey is the first GOP Senate speaker in Tennessee in 140 years and the first from Sullivan County in over 100 years. He enjoys a Senate with a 26-7 supermajority.
Harwell also enjoys a supermajority with 70 Republicans, 28 Democrats and one Independent making up the 99-member House.
She reminded the House members they owe spouses, friends, family members and political activists for supporting them and allowing them to serve in Nashville. She illustrated her point through the story of a Navy captain whose F-4 Phantom jet was shot down over North Vietnam on May 4, 1967. The pilot ejected from his burning plane only to be captured and held six years as a prisoner of war.
In a restaurant years later, a man recognized the pilot. The man said, “You were on an aircraft carrier called Kitty Hawk. You were shot down. You parachuted into enemy hands and you spent six years as a prisoner of war.”
The pilot was shocked and asked the stranger how he knew so much about his life.
The stranger replied, “I labored in the bowels of that aircraft carrier. I spent endless hours packing parachutes. I packed your parachute that day.”
Speechless, the pilot jumped up and hugged the stranger saying, “I would not be here today if it were not for you.”
She said spouses, friends, families and political activists are those parachute packers.
Harwell said she expects the 108th General Assembly will build on the foundations laid in the previous session that led to Tennessee’s ranking as one of the four best states for business by “Chief Executive Magazine,” and earning the 2012 Gold Shovel Award from “Area Development Magazine” for achieving success in job creation. The state is also first in the nation for automotive manufacturing strength, according to “Business Facilities Magazine,” and “Site Selection Magazine” ranks Tennessee in the top 10 states for business climate based on the low tax burden.
“This is an impressive record for the members of this General Assembly, but there is more to be done,” she said. “We cannot risk losing the opportunities before us by inaction. I ask this chamber to live up to your God-given potential, work hard and read the legislation before you, ask questions and debate the issues with an open mind.”
She said House members would reflect the will of the people who want state government to operate efficiently and effectively while saving taxpayers’ money.
The state will continue moving toward a paperless system and adoption of rule changes, with the goal of having the chamber abide by an ethics policy that reminds officeholders they are held to the highest standards by the citizens.
She said the people who sent them to Nashville are the people they serve and admonished them to work together for the benefit of the state.