Picking the Next House Speaker

May 24, 2019 by David Fowler

mystery TN House Speaker
With the impending resignation of state Representative Glen Casada as Speaker, the question turns to “Who’s next?” As someone who has either served in the legislature or observed it from up close for 25 years, unless some particular things and attitudes change, nothing much may change other than the name on the Speaker’s office door. Here’s why.

My reason for saying so is this: As troublesome as some of the things were that came out, there was not much, if anything, that has not been true of the House for decades. So, if change is going to come, the same old same old will produce the same old result. It’s time to ask some hard questions.

The Two Questions That Need to Be Asked

The first question that I think needs to be asked and answered by House Republicans (only because there are too few Democrats to influence the outcome of the Speaker election) is this: Why does the House have recurring problems with corruption, sexual trysts, and authoritarianism regardless of who is Speaker?

And a second, related question is this: Is there something about the way the House (really, virtually all political bodies) goes about choosing a Speaker that contributes to these recurring problems?

To me, these two questions go together, and if we get the answer to the first question right, it might just serve to change the way the Republicans go about electing the next Speaker.

My Answer to the First Question—Worldview

The answer to the first question, in my opinion, is an out-of-favor word, “sin.” But don’t let that word put you off. In this context, I refer to the most basic sin of all, not particularities.

The most fundamental sin that lies at the root of all other particular sins is that which ensnared Adam and Eve—they lost sight of God’s authority over all things, and by eschewing an incredible delegated authority, they grasped for their own authority that, as creatures, it was impossible for them to have.

For the biblical perspective, because God is God and all else is creaturely, all authority on earth—at all levels and in all positions—is a delegated authority, and therefore a person with authority must understand that he or she is first under authority.

So, like Adam and Eve, the House Speaker holds only delegated authority, in this case, the efficient cause (as Aristotle would have put it) or we might say, direct or immediate cause, of which is a delegation (vote) by the whole body of the House.

But also like Adam and Eve, most Speakers aren’t content, at least for long, with only delegated authority. They begin to want to exercise authority over the members of the House.

So, I would advise the Christians in the Republican Caucus to look for someone who understands that having authority means being under authority. Any candidate who even smells like he or she wants to be in authority needs to be moved off the list.

But there is more. The ultimate cause, or what Aristotle would call the final cause, of the Speaker’s authority is God.

So, I would commend to the Christians in the Republican Caucus that they take off the list any candidate who does not readily recognize that he or she is foremost and in the ultimate analysis under the authority of God and, moreover, does so because it is evident from the person’s life (words are cheap) that he or she has somewhere along the line been humbled by the authority of God.

If the next Speaker doesn’t understand these two things, then that Speaker will be prone to abusing power. And abuse of power will lead to all kinds of particular evils.

However, if what is needed is a person who understands these things, then the Christians in the Republican Caucus may need to think about changing the process by which a Speaker is elected.

My First Answer to the Second Question—A New Process

Typically, people decide to run for Speaker, and there is nothing wrong with offering to serve.

But think about this: David of Israel was out in the field tending sheep while his brothers were being paraded before the prophet Samuel for his consideration as the next king of Israel, and Moses was a fallen-from-power nobody tending his father-in-law’s sheep. They were “drafted” by God to be leaders.

In other words, it just may be that the Christians in the Republican Caucus need to draft a person to serve, because the right person just may not be looking or clamoring to be Speaker.

However, the right person will have demonstrated the worldview and character qualities described above in fulfilling more “menial” responsibilities as a Representative. Like the shepherd David, who had learned how to slay the bear and the lion while guarding the sheep, this person may just be fitted to kill Goliath.

My Second Answer to the Second Question—A New Approach to the Usual Process

The problem, of course, is not in offering to serve vis-à-vis being drafted to serve, and my comments should not be interpreted to imply anything about those who have said they would like to serve or are thinking about offering to serve.

But, having been through caucus elections, I know the typical process of running means candidates getting on the phone, trying to line up votes. That’s when wheeling and dealing tends to kick in.

Too many candidates call and intimate if not outright say, “If you vote for me, I’ll do this” or the person being called asks, “If I vote for you, would you do this?” In my view, only a candidate who tells a solicitor of some favor “nothing” should be Speaker.

So, what if any Republican members who really believe they are being called by God to offer themselves for service as Speaker simply wrote a letter or sent an email to every member of the caucus stating why they are running, how they understand the responsibilities of that office, and how they would seek to fulfill them, and what qualifications and experiences, if any, they offer?

Then those “candidates” leave it at that. Make no phone calls (only answer a call). Offer to serve, but leave the matter in God’s hands, and then pray that His will be done.

After all, if a person is called by God to do something, does it really matter how many votes can be lined up ahead of time? I think not.

Will that put the candidate at a disadvantage to the candidate willing to make calls? Will it put the candidate at a disadvantage to the candidate making deals?

Worldly eyes would say yes. But is not this new approach a demonstration of the person’s belief that God is the ultimate cause by which His authority is delegated, and He can be trusted in how He works through the efficient or direct causes to bring about the delegation that will best accomplish His purposes?

To me, at least as a Christian, that would speak volumes about that person. It would tell me that God is central and fundamental to that person’s thinking process. That would be a real change.

But, says a Caucus member, I can't make a "candidate" do that.

Really? What if a member or a group of members told the candidates that no phone calls from the candidate are needed or wanted but an email or letter like the one I mentioned will be appreciated. Be a cause for change!


If past sins of the House associated with a misunderstanding of the nature and source of authority continue, along with the ways in which the members decide how and for whom to vote, then don’t be surprised if the same old same old continues.

As former Lt. Governor John Wilder might have said, “A break from the past won’t come without a break from the past.”
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. 

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