Republicans elected Harwell, of Nashville, on Thursday as their nominee for House speaker during a special meeting of the party caucus.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks said Harwell was elected on the first ballot and House Republicans can now move forward in solidarity and a unified direction.
Brooks, who is vice caucus chair, moderated the election process in place of Glen Casada, of Franklin, who was the other nominee on the ballot.
Brooks said the meeting went very smoothly.
“We are eager to get the nomination for speaker behind us so we can govern,” he said. “The Republican Caucus must be ready in January to lead both decisively and effectively. We have been elected to lead our state forward, not backward.”
Harwell, 53, a former professor and state party chairwoman, defeated House Republican Caucus Chairman Casada in a secret ballot.
The Associated Press reported some vocal opposition from Tea Party and gun rights groups who questioned her conservative credentials.
Harwell would become Tennessee’s first female speaker if elected by full membership of the lower chamber in January, which appears all but certain given the GOP’s 64-34 advantage and state party bylaws that allow for the expulsion of Republican members who don’t support the nominee.
“We’re all together now,” Harwell told her colleagues after the vote was announced. “And we’re excited about our opportunity to govern this great state.”
Casada said after the vote that he would not seek to retain his current position as caucus chairman when the remainder of GOP leadership positions are decided next month.
“I’m looking forward to supporting Beth as a member of the caucus, and I hope she puts me on some good committees,” he said.
Brooks said the meeting was originally designed to allow leadership candidates the opportunity to express their views before the Dec. 8 Caucus meeting.
Brooks recently announced his intentions to run for assistant majority leader. He confirmed this morning he is still actively seeking the post.