Ron Ramsey is an auctioneer and real estate broker who served as the 49th Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the Senate of Tennessee; he executed the duties of the position from 2007 to 2016. He was the first Republican to have held the office since the adoption of the 1870 Tennessee State Constitution, which remains in power to this day. In addition to his time spent as speaker, Ramsey also was the state representative for the state’s 1st District from 1993 to 1997, and he occupied the state senate seat that represents District 4 from 1997 to 2016.
Born in a small town in northeast Tennessee in 1955, Ramsey graduated from Sullivan Central High School in 1973, and he earned a degree in industrial technology from East Tennessee State University in 1978. After graduation, Ramsey worked as a surveyor and married his wife, Sindy Parker, with whom he has three daughters and five grandchildren. He earned his auctioneer license in 1985, his real estate license in 1986, and in 1990, he and his wife formed Ron Ramsey and Associates, which has endured to this day as a real estate firm specializing in property auctions.
In 1992, Ramsey entered the political arena when he decided to run for the state House of Representatives seat left vacant by Jim Holcomb, who resigned his seat in favor of a spot in the State Senate. He defeated Democrat Paul Harr to win the seat that year and was reelected in 1994. In this early stage of his career, Ramsey was no stranger to controversy: he sparked an outcry when he stated his intent to propose legislation that would force mothers receiving welfare benefits to identify the fathers of their children or face revocation of their benefits. When countered with the possibility that a mother may not know who the father was, he responded, “She’ll be more careful next time.” Although much of his time in the State House was centered on failed attempts at passing welfare reform legislation, he did successfully sponsor and pass a bill toughening the penalties for parents of truant students.
When Jim Holcomb elected to retire from the State Senate in 1996 in order to run for a U.S. House seat, Ramsey did not hesitate to throw his hat in the ring to replace his fellow Republican in the General Assembly. His campaign efforts were met with a victory over Democrat Wallace Ketron, and he assumed the seat for Senate District 4, which he would not relinquish until 2016. In his early years in that position, Ramsey sponsored and passed legislation establishing stiffer child support payments for men impregnating minors, a bill providing tax breaks on aircraft purchases, and helped defeat Governor Don Sundquist’s proposed state income tax. Ramsey successfully translated his momentum from this latter victory to gain power among his Republican peers; he was elected GOP caucus leader in late 2002 following the conclusion of the income tax battle. In this new leadership role, Ramsey marshaled Republican representatives to pass legislation prohibiting cities from passing laws establishing a local minimum wage greater than the federal minimum wage.
Following the retirement of longtime State Senate Republican leader Ben Atchley in 2003, Ramsey ascended to the top of the Republican power structure in the General Assembly. Once in that position, he spearheaded a drive to secure a majority for the GOP in the state legislature. These efforts nearly reached fruition in January of 2007, when the Republicans were one vote short of the majority required to elect one of their own as Speaker of the Senate, a role that also carries the title of Lieutenant Governor in Tennessee’s system of government. Despite the Democrats holding a single seat advantage in the chamber, the GOP managed to convince Democratic Senator Rosalind Kurita of Clarksville to vote for Ramsey, allowing him to become the first ever Republican lieutenant governor of the state. Kurita’s move sent shockwaves through Tennessee politics. Although Ramsey appointed her speaker pro tempore of the body, raising allegations of a back room deal, she was essentially stripped of her Senate seat altogether by the Tennessee Democratic Party when the party denied her a primary victory, thus removing her from the ballot when she next faced reelection.
In the years immediately subsequent to his election as lieutenant governor, Ramsey focused on sparking further Republican gains in the state legislature. Thanks in part to Ramsey’s fundraising and organization, the Republicans gained a five-seat majority in the State Senate following the 2008 elections; they also gained a one-seat majority in the House, but an alliance (strikingly similar to that which elected Ramsey) between the minority Democrats and Republican Kent Williams resulted in Williams’s accession to the role of Speaker of the House. In 2010, Ramsey ran for governor, but finished a distant third in the GOP primary. However, he garnered no shortage of headlines on the campaign trail when he questioned whether Islam was a religion or a cult. Following his failed gubernatorial run, he worked to attract businesses through tax breaks and friendly legislation, and he also helped orchestrate further consolidation of Republican power, which saw the GOP gain supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature.
Ramsey has long been a voice from the right even within his own party. He drew opposition from Speaker Beth Halteman Harwell and Governor Bill Haslam as a result of a push to recall and unseat three Democratic judges from the Tennessee Supreme Court, and he vehemently opposed Governor Haslam’s budget-neutral (in regard to the state’s budget) Insure Tennessee plan to expand healthcare for low-income Tennesseans.
In 2016, Ramsey announced that he would not seek reelection, and that he intended to “commit a lot more time to . . . [his] growing family” and to focus on his real estate and auction business.
Published » March 21, 2017 | Last Updated » March 21, 2017