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Harwell’s House

Tennessee Speaker ‘ready to govern’

NASHVILLE – The year 2011 was only in its 11th day when history was made in Tennessee. With the inauguration of Gov. Bill Haslam, the Republican party regained control of the executive branch, and the new governor was poised to work in partnership with the speaker of the Senate, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville). Meanwhile, across the Capitol foyer, in the House of Representatives, a petite figure rose from her desk to accept the ovation of her colleagues. And then Beth Halteman Harwell Dr. Beth Harwell made history on Jan. 11, 2011 walked to the front of the room to accept the when she became the first woman elected Speaker of the House in Tennessee history. speaker’s gavel. It marked the first time since Reconstruction that the Republicans held all three leadership posts, and the first time in history that a woman had risen to speaker of the House in Tennessee. Though she was not aware of any of her colleagues voting for her because she was a woman, Harwell said she was very proud to have the confidence of her fellow members, and to be the first woman to be elected to the post. As the mother of three, the new speaker certainly had maternal wherewithal but, shortly after her dainty hand grasped the large wooden mallet and gave it a ceremonial rap on the dais, Harwell proved she would not be in the mode of Harriet Nelson or Donna Reed – instead, think Barbara Stanwyck. She immediately set in motion changes to the way business was conducted in the chamber where she had served since first being elected to the house in 1988, representing the 56th district, a portion of Davidson County. Harwell streamlined the committee system, eliminating several subcommittees from the House structure, which allowed bills to go straight to committee for study and debate. “It was a very bold step and I’m very pleased with the results. I think we were simply bogged down with too many committees. It is speeding up the process, and has freed our staff up and Continued on Page Two


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freed up time for study and debate on more complicated and controversial measures. I think it has been very good for the General Assembly. “It has also made the remaining subcommittees more powerful and given them more responsibility. For example, Representative Matthew Hill is now chair of the Health Subcommittee, and he has done an excellent job.” The Jonesborough Republican is quick to return the compliment. “Speaker Harwell is truly a breath of fresh air,” Hill said. “She is committed to running the people’s house efficiently and she always puts the taxpayers of our great state first.” Hill said anyone who was familiar with Harwell’s impressive background would know she would be anything but average. A native of Norristown, Penn., Harwell moved to Tennessee in 1974. She and her husband, Sam – the founder of Big Time Toys – will soon celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary, and have three children: Allie, a high school senior; Sam, a sophomore; and Tucker, a sixth-grader. Harwell said she really State Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) gives Speaker Beth Harwell a knew she had “made it” when her daughter put an tour of the old town. arm around her neck and told the new speaker she was “cool.” A member of the Church of Christ, Harwell earned a B.A. degree from David Lipscomb University; a master’s degree from George Peabody College; and a Ph.D from Vanderbilt University. She is a former associate professor at Belmont University. As the 107th General Assembly prepares to convene its second session on Jan. 10, Harwell says “the first week we’ll be working on redistricting. Representative Hill is also chairing that committee. It’s a very difficult job to draw the lines fairly and be able to please everyone. He has worked very hard on it, and has done a good job. “Next will come the budget. Fortunately Tennessee is not in a bad situation, certainly in comparison to many other states. But it’s always a challenge to get that done. Continued on Page Three


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“There are always a few surprises, but we’re always able to come to the table and, unlike in Washington, I’m proud of the way the General Assembly is able to put everything political aside, do the people’s business and balance the budget. It is a wonderful blessing for the state.” The speaker said she is firm in her belief that fairness and courtesy will win out, and keep Nashville from imitating recent hyper-partisan bickering in the nation’s Capitol. “I’m a very proud Republican but I am speaker of the entire House and as long as I am, every member will be treated with respect and dignity, and given the opportunity to speak.” Since her election, Harwell says she tries to avoid overmuch involvement with individual pieces of legislation. “I think it behooves a leader to solely focus on the important role they must play and not sponsor Beth Harwell and her sons, Sam (left) and Tucker. bills on their own. I try to avoid that. “I never fully realized how powerful the speaker is in Tennessee. It is an awesome responsibility. My constituents realize I want to vote their will, and that I want to hear from them. “But we have a lot of wonderful members in the house who know the needs of the state, and they are going to be working hard to represent all of the state well. I can best serve by helping them be able to do that well.” During her legislative career, Harwell has been closely associated with legislation concerning victims’ rights, sexual abuse, children’s issues and education. “I think we have made tremendous strides in the protection of victims’ rights. Obviously, correction is an extremely expensive part of state government. We must be open to opportunities to keeping those costs down.” Harwell said a neighboring state has been able to save $3 million simply by doing away with lunch for prisoners, now serving two meals a day – brunch and dinner – instead of three. Harwell has sponsored legislation toughening penalties against stalkers and requiring more time in prison for rapists, and to strengthen laws against Beth Harwell knew she had ‘made it’ when rape of a child “We need to keep violent offenders locked up as her daughter, Allie, put an arm around her long as we can, and one way we can ensure doing neck and told the new speaker she was ‘cool.’

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that is to keep costs of doing it down.” Deeply involved in Families First, and with ongoing welfare reform, Harwell says she would like to see the legislature examine the recent proposal of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients. “It is costly to drug test every person receiving welfare benefits from the state. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have the option to do random tests. I just want to make sure there is not an additional financial burden on government. “The people receiving assistance should not be getting government money if they are on drugs. Period. I’m all for denying assistance in that case. The question is how to best go about it. “The General Assembly does a remarkable job. Negativity sells newspapers, but we are here to serve the people, and we are going to do that. There is a time for election, but the time for governing is when the gavel goes down.” In the early fall of 2011, Harwell traveled to Northeast Tennessee to tour the area with Hill. “I appreciate her friendship and the true concern she has shown for Washington County, its people, and the many good things happening here. “With her integrity and dedication, I consider Speaker Harwell one of the truly good things about state government. The people of Northeast Tennessee should be proud to know that the speaker of the house knows Tennessee doesn’t stop at Knoxville,” Hill said. Harwell served as chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2001-2004. She has been active in the International Women’s Forum and served on the Tennessee Court System Advisory Committee. A recipient of the Guardian of Small Business Award Speaker Beth Harwell with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, she has served on the boards of directors for Child Abuse Prevention, American Heart Association, Agape, Centennial Medical Center, and the Tennessee State Museum, among many others. Harwell said she is committed to sustaining and improving the state’s pro-business climate, and to doing everything possible to play a positive role in job creation. “Tennessee is in a very good position, certainly in comparison to many other states. It is one of the top states – one of the most business friendly environments in the nation. “I want to see us do everything we can to maintain that. One of the best things is to give the people the good government they deserve, with low debt and low taxes. “Businesses don’t want to locate in a state that’s crumbling, with the threat of massive tax Continued on Page Five


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increases every time a budget is discussed. We want to keep our taxes low on businesses and individuals. “Keeping taxes low and lessening unreasonable regulations is how we can most effectively help small business, especially in rural areas. Government does not create jobs, businesses do, and especially small businesses. “Northeast Tennessee has a very good man in Ron Ramsey. He comes from a small business perspective and he knows the extraordinary value, and also the many difficulties, firsthand. “I’m proud to be a Republican. A lot of people think we only gained the majority last election cycle. Nothing could be further from the truth – we’ve been working toward it for over a decade now. It speaks well of our party that the people of Tennessee are seeing that we are capable of leadership,” Harwell said. “It is a privilege to serve with Gov. Haslam and Lt. Gov. Photo from ‘TNReport’ Ramsey. We had been asking voters for the responsibility. Tennessee’s dainty Speaker of the They have given us this opportunity. It is exciting and I am House doesn’t mind gaining a little very encouraged about the direction we’re moving, and the assistance at the large podium. good that we can do for Tennessee.” (For more information about Speaker Beth Harwell, visit: http://www.capitol.tn.gov/house/ speaker.html or her personal website at www.bethharwell.com. To watch a video of Harwell’s election as speaker, and her inaugural remarks, visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfTy VL1TbXY&feature=related)


Out 'N About - Signature Series - Rep. Harwell