Sensing tepid support, the Rockvale Republican pulled his ultrasound bill from consideration this year and vows to take the measure up again in 2016. Between now and then, he said he's looking to revise his proposal to require a 24-hour waiting period -- down from his original a 72-hour wait -- for an abortion, make it optional for the woman to view or hear details about the ultrasound and line up a slew of House sponsors to help him pass it.
Rep. Rick Womick’s official letter announcing his intent to run against House Speaker Beth Harwell for the chamber’s top job charges she has “compromised our trust and has abused the prestige of her office over the last 3.5 years by silently amassing over $1.3 million dollars in personal political wealth.”
An excerpt, from the letter dated Nov. 21, 2014:
At the expense of the very legislators who elected her as Speaker, she has quietly consumed large sums of available PAC money for her Harwell PAC and Personal Campaign Finance account. Apparently, it has been for one self-serving purpose; so that she can run for and become the next Governor of Tennessee. I’m sorry, but the purpose of this caucus is not to provide a funding mechanism, on the backs of our members, that allows the Speaker of the House to build a campaign war chest for election to statewide office! Her actions and leadership at the very least, have been insincere, but to an even greater extent, they are unethical.
The letter goes on to argue Harwell, who two years ago invested in fending off then-Caucus Chairwoman Debra Maggart before she was defeated, sat on the sidelines when a political action committee with ties to the governor targeted five incumbent tea party legislators in the August primary election.
Republican Sheila Butt, one of 15 Republican legislators who broke ranks to call for the immediate resignation of then-Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, is running for a seat in House leadership.
Butt, of Columbia, sent an email to the House Republican lawmakers Wednesday, saying she will “stand up for each of you and your legislation on the House Floor.” Letters of intent to run for caucus elections are due Monday, Nov. 24, according to caucus staff.
Butt is running to replace Rep. Vance Dennis, who was beaten in the August primary election by “Coach” David Byrd, a high school principal and coach.
The letter Butt and other tea party-minded members sent to Gov. Bill Haslam in June asking for Huffman’s resignation was crafted by Rep. Rick Womick. He had rallied members sharing his viewpoint to push back against controversial Common Core standards last legislative session and announced this month he would run for Speaker against sitting Speaker Beth Harwell, who is considered a key Haslam ally.
Recent emails cast Harwell as moderate and weak on Common Core, a touchy topic among Republicans. Womick has distanced himself from the emails but did not disagree in questioning Harwell’s leadership. Asked what she specifically thought about the criticism, Butt would only say the caucus needs to work together.
“I just think we don’t need to dwell on what we think happened in the past. There’s too much to be done in the next legislative session and we need to make sure that as a caucus, we’re working together for the people of the state of Tennessee,” she said.
(Editor's note: This story has been updated to show the correct due date of Nov. 24 for letters of intent to run for caucus elections.)
A series of emails are circling to select House Republicans urging they replace House Speaker Beth Harwell for being too moderate and a puppet of the House clerk. The email called specifically to elect challenger Rep. Rick Womick.
The latest email featured House Clerk Joe McCord as a puppet master, pulling the strings of Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent and Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson from one hand and House Speaker Beth Harwell and former Republican Caucus Leader-turned education lobbyist Debra Maggart on the other.
“It is time to cut ties,” the image says in bold, capital letters. “Vote Rick Womick for speaker. No one will pull his strings.”
Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday he had nothing to do with picking who his key supporters would target in this year’s Republican primaries, although he stopped short of denying any involvement with the group.
Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, called the governor a “traitor” this week in light of revelations a group of the governor’s key supporters teamed up to contribute thousands of dollars to unseat Republican legislators who butt heads with the governor.
Asked whether he denies Womick’s assertion that the governor had a direct hand in targeting lawmakers, Haslam said, “Again, I have folks who have supported us who are concerned about who gets elected to the legislature, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
Haslam said, “I didn’t select one opponent, I can assure you that.” He added he didn’t encourage anyone to run against targeted legislators.
“As you know, contests get very personal. And so you start to hear lots of conversation back and forth about who’s doing this or that, and you know, it’s not always accurate,” he said.
Womick penned a letter earlier this month calling out what he called the administration’s “treasonous targeting, in this month’s primary.”
A political action committee by the name of Advance Tennessee PAC targeted five sitting Republican legislators or aided their opponents in the August GOP primary election. The PAC’s organizers and donors includes supporters of Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell. The group hired a direct mail firm that has Bryan Kaegi, a fundraiser for the two high-ranking Republicans, as one of its principals. Contributors included board members of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, SCORE, which aligns closely with the governor’s education agenda.
The group, created the month before the election, spent nearly $140,000 on efforts to unseat Tea Party Republicans, according to campaign finance reports. Key targets included Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Tony Shipley — who were both voted out of office — and Reps. Micah Van Huss, Courtney Rogers and Mike Sparks, who all won reelection.
If Commissioner Kevin Huffman is still in charge of the Department of Education next year, the administration is in a for a long legislative session come January, according to Rep. Rick Womick.
He and more than a dozen Republicans are demanding the "immediate removal" of Huffman as the state's head of education. It's a move the governor's office has called a "political stunt" and a letter the Department of Education contends is full of unfounded accusations.
“As long as he keeps him in there, we’ll continue to speak out. And when it comes time for session next year, we’ll be presenting legislation that will turn back some of these policies. We may even file legislation demanding his removal,” Womick said. “Everything’s still on the table. It’s up to the governor right now. The ball’s in his court, we’ll see what he does."
While the letter was signed by Republicans in the tea party wing of the legislature — almost all in the House of Representatives — the Rockvale Republican was asked to draft the letter, he said. Womick is one of Huffman's leading critics who has recently joined a chorus of parents, teachers and superintendents who have questioned Huffman's decisions throughout much of the governor's his administration. Womick played a key role this spring in forcing the state to delay a key test aligned with new Common Core education standards by partnering conservative Republicans with most of the state's Democrats.
The letter called for Huffman’s removal in light of the department’s recent delay releasing an initial round of standardized test scores to school districts. The delay caused a stir among school superintendents, leading the department to waive requirements that school officials in over 100 districts factor those scores into students’ final grades, as required by law.
The Department of Education found fault with allegations in the letter from Republicans. Suggestions the department could be altering test scores is "categorically untrue" and the idea that the commissioner violated state law by issuing districts wavers and is trying conceal results is "completely inaccurate," according to a department response emailed late Thursday.
The attorney general is looking into whether waiving using test scores in student grades violates a newly approved state law that bans the commissioner from waiving “federal and state student assessment and accountability.”
In an interview earlier this month with the Post, Huffman laughed when asked whether he plans to stay with the governor's administration for a second term.
“I don’t know. I have no idea. Not a conversation that I’m having, haven’t put thought into length of tenure,” he said. “I have a good job. I’m psyched to be here, that’s enough for now.”
Haslam has stood by Huffman's decision to delay test scores, saying the department did the accountable thing by waiting to release scores until the department was positive they were accurate and ready. He has repeatedly said he supports the commissioner.
House Speaker Beth Harwell both defended the administration and tried to calm the waters within her caucus.
"I’m proud of the accomplishments that Gov. Haslam has achieved in education reform. The NAEP test results showed Tennessee improved more than any other state in the 10 year history of the test, and that indicates we are on the right path,” she said in an emailed statement Thursday.
“Change is always difficult — but setting personalities and managerial styles aside, I know Gov. Haslam and this General Assembly want to do what is best for the children of this state. The taxpayers of this state should demand nothing less and the children of this state deserve nothing less," she said.
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS