NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Senate Republicans say they want to tout their accomplishments more effectively as they face legislative elections and a Democratic base energized by a U.S. Senate race in Alabama. They also want to sharpen their message as the party could divide over President Donald Trump.
At a Senate Republican Caucus meeting Wednesday, Chairman Bill Ketron said the Alabama contest, in which GOP candidate Roy Moore lost, helped provide a recent bump for Democrats as they came up just short in Republican Sen. Mark Pody’s 308-vote special election win.
“It was close. Too close. We don’t want that close vote anymore,” said Ketron, who is not seeking re-election and is running for Rutherford County mayor.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said Republican senators should focus on achievements, and distributed a presentation of 2017 state budget highlights.
“We’ve got to do a better job of putting our best foot forward and telling people all the good things we’ve done,” said Norris, a Collierville Republican who is awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation to become a federal judge.
Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield said his caucus needs to brand its accomplishments as the Tennessee agenda because Trump could divide the party.
“It’ll take a unified voice from this Senate to break through the cacophony of noise that’s going to push back,” Roberts said. “Anyone who runs on the Trump agenda right now, you potentially alienate members of our own party that just haven’t warmed up to Donald Trump.”
Republicans hold supermajorities in the House and Senate, where 17 of 33 seats are up for election. All 99 House seats are on the ballot.
Ketron also said the caucus should focus on the re-election of Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican whose district voted for Trump by only a thin margin.
Norris also gave an update on his nomination for a U.S. district judge in western Tennessee. He will remain a state senator until the U.S. Senate votes to confirm him, a vote that hasn’t been scheduled yet.
“I don’t know what’s going to become of it, but I’m not going to resign the seat for which my constituents elected me or this leadership post for which you elected me,” Norris told his Senate Republican peers.
He said he hasn’t given campaign contributions to his colleagues and did not attend an AT&T legislative reception Tuesday because of ethical considerations with his judicial nomination.
Trump nominated Norris in July and the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send his nomination to the full Senate in December. Because the Senate didn’t take a vote by the end of the year, Trump had to re-nominate him and others, Norris said.
Tommy Parker in western Tennessee and Chip Campbell in middle Tennessee were confirmed as district judges unanimously this week.
Norris’ confirmation vote in committee was 11-9 along party lines, he said. Norris and Eli Richardson in middle Tennessee, a lawyer who has experience as an assistant federal prosecutor and FBI agent, still await confirmation, and both have a record of public service, Norris noted.
“Both of us, we’re the sort of sacrificial guys in Tennessee being politicized,” Norris said.