Many lawmakers are leaving Tennessee General Assembly

Gov. Bill Haslam, left, is applauded as he gives his annual State of the State address to a joint convention of the Tennessee General Assembly, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey) Photo by Mark Humphrey

by Andy Sher   |     Chattanooga Times Free Press

NASHVILLE — Big changes are in store for the 132-member Tennessee General Assembly next year with at least 21 current lawmakers having already announced plans to retire or having already departed, and more are expected to decide later.

Their reasons range from seeking higher offices to federal appointments, disenchantment or more pressing needs at home.

The most high-profile figure is House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Nashville Republican who was elected seven years ago as the first female speaker in Tennessee history. Harwell is running for governor.

So is former state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, who resigned her Middle Tennessee district seat last fall to focus on her bid.

The list of departing House members includes two Hamilton County legislators.

One is Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, a retired nurse caring for her 94-year-old mother and several great-grandchildren. Favors said she needs to devote more time to family responsibilities and would like to write more.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Favors, noting she’s “acquired some fantastic relationships and friends during her seven two-year terms.”

Also departing is Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge, who is hoping to become Hamilton County’s new register of deeds in local contests later this year.

Just last week, Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, former assistant House majority leader, announced he is running for Cleveland mayor.

Also announcing he is leaving was Rep. John Forgety, R-Athens.

Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester, announced last year he is running for Franklin County mayor.

In addition to Beavers, two Tennessee senators are gone with former Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, having been nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed as United States attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee by the Senate. Former Senate Speaker Pro Tem Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, in November was named Trump’s Tennessee director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development office.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has been nominated by Trump for a U.S. District judgeship in the Western District of Tennessee. Senate approval got gummed up late last year. Trump has renominated him.

Two House members could seek the seat if and when Norris is confirmed.

The moves are prompting any number of legislators to seek to fill leadership voids.

For example, Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, and Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, will seek to fill the No. 2 leadership post.

Harwell’s departure, meanwhile, has drawn interest from former House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, current Majority Leader Glen Casada, R-Franklin, Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, and Assistant Republican Leader David Hawk of Greeneville.

In the House, a number of Harwell’s top lieutenants are leaving, including Deputy Speaker Steve McDaniel, R-Lexington, and House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, intends to run for Shelby County mayor in 2018, which could trigger a rush among Democratic representatives.

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