Members of the Cumberland County Republican Party gathered Tuesday to celebrate state Rep. Cameron Sexton’s election as Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Tennessee General Assembly. 

Sexton thanked those present for their support in seeking office and while serving, adding, “I can never repay the debt.”

The room was filled not only with Cumberland County party members, but GOP representatives from surrounding counties and across the state.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said, “The ship was a little bit rocky the last year. When he came on, he really steadied what’s going on in the House.”

“You’ve got an absolute rock star in your representative and our speaker,” said Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, who serves as the majority leader in the House. “I appreciate the fact you support this gentleman and that Cameron knows he’s got your love and support. He’s a good man. He’s doing a fantastic job.”

Lamberth presented Sexton with the legislative flag that was flown at the Tennessee Capitol the day he was sworn in as Speaker of the House.

McNally said Sexton is someone he could work with as the Tennessee General Assembly prepares for the upcoming legislative session, which reconvenes in January. The two have known each other for many years. Both graduated from Oak Ridge High School and Sexton worked on McNally’s 1994 campaign for the Tennessee Senate.

“It’s been great having Randy as a mentor all these years,” Sexton said. 

McNally was running for office in the wake of Operation Rocky Top, an FBI investigation into public corruption in Tennessee. He reported an attempted bribe from a bingo operator and agreed to wear a wire while he built the trust of the lobbyist and others. The investigation resulted in more than 50 convictions.

“Randy McNally was the one who took out public corruption in Tennessee at the time,” Sexton said, adding McNally had helped in the rise of the Republican party as the majority party in the state.

Sexton met former Congressman Van Hilleary in 1998 while working on another campaign. His candidate lost, but he had caught the attention of the congressman.

“That’s how I came to Crossville,” Sexton said, noting he served as Hilleary’s field representative. 

In that role, he learned about constituent service and assisting people regardless of how they voted.

“When people need help, they need help,” he said. 

Sexton said Hilleary assembled a strong team while in office, but he was the only one to enter the political arena as a candidate. 

“I was the only one smart enough or dumb enough to get elected,” he said.

Sexton was first elected to the Tennessee House in 2010, with a campaign kick-off held at the community complex. 

“A lot of people in this room over the years have played an important role in our races,” he said. 

During his legislative career, Sexton has served as chairman of committees, Republican whip, and in 2018 was elected caucus chairman. 

He was elected Speaker of the House in August after embattled former speaker Rep. Glen Casada resigned amid multiple controversies.

Sexton’s former boss Hilleary now serves as chief of staff for Congressman John Rose, R-Tennessee, who represents the 4th Congressional District. Hilleary said the role allowed him to “get back in the fight” and continue to be involved in politics and public service.

“I’ve never done anything in my life I like better than public service,” Hilleary said. 

Though he said he initially turned down the job offer, he changed his mind because Rose “is exactly the kind of guy you want in Congress.”

Hilleary said Rose is moral, ethical, successful, smart, level-headed and steady in his beliefs.

Sexton also encompasses many of those same qualities, Hilleary said. 

“He’s prepared himself for this job,” Hilleary said. “He’s a moral, ethical man, a family man — the kind of man you’d want representing you in any capacity.”

“I think there’s a really good chance that he’s going to go down as one of the best speakers in our state simply because he’s got those characteristics I’ve mentioned. But in addition, I think he’s got the combination of substance and flash,” Hilleary said. 

Sexton thanked everyone for being at the dinner. The Cumberland County Republican Party presented him with a leather portfolio and document sleeve, made by Tennessee company Colonel Littleton Leather. The portfolio is engraved with the words “Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton” with the Tennessee state seal on the back.

Sexton is looking forward to the coming year and said it will be a team approach as the General Assembly begins its work. He has been working to put representatives on committees where they have a passion for the topic, and he’s asked them to develop a vision for what they want the state to accomplish in the next five years.

“I don’t know how long I’ll serve or where we go from here,” Sexton said. “All we can do is take care of today for a better tomorrow.”

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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