Uneasy Is the Hand That Holds the Gavel

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State Rep. Judd Matheny is apparently unhappy with the relatively little power afforded to him by the title of House speaker pro tempore. Now the Associated Press reports he is taking the temperature of the House GOP caucus to see who would support him if he challenges House Speaker Beth Harwell for her post.

Earlier this month, Harwell's last opponent for the position, Rep. Glen Casada, confirmed to the AP that he would not be challenging her again this coming session.

But Matheny belongs to a certain set of conservatives who have become increasingly unhappy with the party's elected leadership. The Tullahoma Republican supported the National Rifle Association's guns-in-parking-lots bill last session, opposition to which ended up costing House GOP Caucus chair Debra Maggart her seat in the Aug. 2 primary.

He also has a particular concern about the supposedly mounting threat of Shariah law. He sponsored a bill in 2011 that originally would have made it a felony to follow the code and endorsed a chief crusader on the subject, Lou Ann Zelenik, in her ultimately failed bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Diane Black.

An excerpt from the AP report on his ambitions, after the jump:

The position wields little independent power, and Matheny complained in the interview of being marginalized by other Republican leaders, who he said worked to dilute his key legislative initiatives ranging from loosening gun laws to battling what he perceives as the spread of Islamic law in the United States.

"Other members in our caucus have chosen not to include me in the chain of information and custody of the Legislature," he said. "I feel like I've purposefully been put in a box."

Matheny, 42, said he holds no personal grudge against Harwell, whom he supported in a hard-fought speaker's race in 2010. But Matheny said he wants the Legislature to exert more power within state government and to pursue what he called "our true constitutional principles."

"I just think this body could be more — and do more," he said.

For what it's worth, I asked Harwell about her feelings on a possible challenge earlier this month, during a chat about the results of the primary elections. At the time, neither Casada nor Matheny had gone public with their intentions, but the fall of seven GOP incumbents was fueling speculation that she might see a challenge from her right. She said her focus was on the general elections in November — which is what she told the AP today — and added:

"I serve at the pleasure of the House Republican Caucus. That’s who I answer to; I don’t answer to any special interest group.”

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