Dear Representative . . . . .

After much thought and careful consideration, I have decided to challenge Speaker Beth Harwell for Speaker-Select, and ultimately, Speaker of the House for the 109th Tennessee General Assembly. Serving as Speaker of the House is an extremely important position in our state's government and it should be fully vetted before anyone is allowed to assume the office. The best way to accomplish this is by introducing competition into the election. Competition that will potentially bring forth new leadership, new ideas, new enthusiasm, and new direction. My bid for speaker is not personal, but rather is based on a fundamental disagreement in leadership style and a lack of accountability to the members of our caucus. I will present to you the facts, the evidence, the truth, and the improprieties that comprise the Speaker's record and tenure over the last four years.

First and foremost is leadership. A great leader not only leads by example, but he or she takes care of the people they lead. Great leaders realize that they are "under" the authority of others, and not granted with authority to rule "over" the very people they lead. Even the Roman Centurion (Matt. 8: 9), as he spoke to Jesus, stated he was a man "under" authority, having soldiers under him. We, as a caucus, elect a speaker to represent us, to serve us, to protect us, to enhance our efforts in representing the people that elected us, and to help us campaign and raise money. We have given the Speaker her authority. She is accountable to us, and she is to support our ideas, wishes, and agenda. She has not been elected to represent the desires or the policies of the Governor. Anything less is to deny and ignore the will of the House. Unfortunately, Speaker Harwell has not viewed her position as a Speaker under the authority of the caucus. Instead she has displayed a total disregard for the House's majority position on several issues, with Common Core State Standards being the most controversial, and ultimately projecting the full power of her office in support for the Governor's failed education policies.

Additionally, Speaker Harwell 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. 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.

Perhaps the most egregious display of failed leadership from Speaker Harwell comes in the form of "active collusion and passive coordination." Upon her discovery in April of 2014 that the Governor's chief of staff, Mark Cate, was involved in targeting Republican caucus members in the upcoming primary, Speaker Harwell stood by and watched as five of our Republican caucus members were "targeted" in this year's primary, by a newly created PAC called Advance Tennessee. This PAC was conceived straight from the desk of Mark Cate and the Governor's office. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in campaign ads against these five sitting Republican representatives. The Administration launched an all-out effort to replace them with a "preferred" primary opponent, all because these five were willing to stand up and oppose one or more of the Governor's policies. Speaker Harwell stated that she "took her eye off the ball," but in reality our Speaker did what the Governor asked, and abandoned these five legislators she was elected to serve. The August primary saw our Speaker contribute sizeable sums of money from her PAC to the campaigns of thirteen "non-targeted" incumbent legislators. However, for the five incumbent legislators who were "targeted" by the Advance Tennessee PAC, she contributed NO money and provided NO physical support.

I ask you to examine her apathy for these five, targeted legislators and compare it to her enthusiastic efforts in the 2012 primary when then Representative Debra Maggart was being challenged by Courtney Rogers. Not only did Speaker Harwell contribute $25,000 to the House Caucus account to support its effort to help Representative Maggart, but she made numerous personal cell phone calls to dozens of Republican caucus members, "strongly encouraging" them to contribute the maximum $1400 to Representative Maggart's campaign account. The result, 39 caucus members contributed near or at the maximum $1400 allowed. What a difference two years makes! I can't help but ask, "Where was that same level of enthusiasm and support for the five legislators, targeted by the Advance Tennessee PAC, that Speaker Harwell exhibited during Representative Maggart's campaign?" My fellow legislators, it makes no difference where your loyalties lie today. When the very members of our caucus are targeted by our own leadership whose only desire is to control the money, control the agenda, and advance their own personal political ambitions, then sooner or later every caucus member will be targeted if they "get out of line." In the Tennessee House, standing on principle and representing the voices of your constituents will get you targeted under leadership that rules with absolute power.

This election yields two very clear, distinctive choices. Do you want to continue to operate under leadership that supports 100% of the Governor's policies, no matter how unpopular they may be with the people of this state? Do you want to continue to support the avaricious stockpiling of PAC contributions to be used by the Speaker as a launch pad for her campaign for Governor? Do you want to continue to support a Speaker who willingly allows her members to be targeted by the Administration in primary elections? If not, if you've had enough, then I'm offering you real leadership that serves "under" your authority. Leadership that will not tolerate any of our members being targeted by the Executive Branch. Leadership that allows you to represent the ideas and values of the constituents in your district without fear of reprisal. If this is the kind of leadership you desire, then I respectfully ask for your vote and for your support as the next Speaker of the Tennessee House.

Rick Womick
State Representative
34th Legislative District

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