A bill pending in the Tennessee Legislature would require a quick special election should one of the state’s two U.S. senators leave office early.
As of now, if either U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander or U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, both Republicans, decide to pack up and quit, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam would choose a replacement, according to state law.
Tennessee voters must then wait for a special election — to coincide with the next general election — to elect someone to complete the remainder of that senator’s term.
But state law says something entirely different when it comes to replacing a vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In that case, a special election is held, within 107 days, to replace a congressman or congresswoman.
State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, and State Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, are sponsoring the bill requiring a special election to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat — much sooner than the next general election.
Under the bill, Tennessee voters —not the governor — would choose someone to complete a U.S. senator’s term, again within 107 days.
“This bill just makes it the same as what we’re already doing for the House of Representatives,” Littleton said.
Beavers, meanwhile, said no one person or event prompted her to introduce the bill.
“This bill isn’t pointed at anyone,” Beavers said.
Representatives for both U.S. senators said neither man is going anywhere.
“Senator Alexander plans to complete his current term,” spokesman Jim Jeffries said in an emailed statement.
Corker’s spokeswoman, Tara DiJulio, told Tennessee Watchdog the same this week.
But if either senator did suddenly step down, Nashville media personality Steve Gill says Haslam is apt to appoint someone who doesn’t possess strong conservative credentials.
“I don’t think there’s any question that Haslam picks a Republican who is more moderate than the voters of Tennessee might select if there were an open election,” Gill said.
If Alexander or Corker resigned next year, after the November general election, voters would have to wait until November 2018 to choose his replacement, Gill said.
“Therefore, the governor, with one vote, would pick a senator for several years,” Gill said.
“I say that because this person gets appointed and serves for two years with a fundraising advantage and a visibility advantage. He or she is basically running as an incumbent in two years, versus going through an open election.”
Haslam spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals did not immediately return a request for comment on the matter.
Alexander is serving the second year of his third term in office; Corker’s in the fourth year of his second term.
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