The Look in Brief

Bell bowing out from Senate in 2022

By: - November 8, 2021 5:17 pm
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville (Photo: John Partipilo)

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville (Photo: John Partipilo)

Fifteen-year legislative veteran Sen. Mike Bell said Monday, “It’s time,” in announcing he will not seek re-election in 2022.

Elected to the state House in 2006, Bell, a Riceville Republican, moved to the Senate in 2010, representing Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk Counties. During his stint in the upper chamber, Bell became a member of Senate leadership, serving as chairman of the Senate Government Operations Committee and then the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“As much as I felt it was time to run in 2006, I think it’s time not to run now,” Bell said Monday after a committee meeting.

Bell isn’t leaving because of the drive from southeast Tennessee to Nashville or the legislative grind. But the 58-year-old said he has to consider where he stands financially, and he pointed out serving in the Legislature doesn’t lead to prosperity.

Still, he called serving the General Assembly the “highest honor” of his life and added it has been “a joy” to get to know and work with members of his district’s civic, business, school, volunteer firefighters, sportsmen, veteran groups and community organizations. 

Asked if he thinks a political job could lie in his future, Bell said, “I don’t know. I know it’s time to leave.”

As leader of the Senate Government Operations Committee, Bell fought for greater accountability in the state’s boards and agencies.

He became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee after recently-indicted Sen. Brain Kelsey was removed from that post.

Since then, he helped carry a restrictive abortion bill through the Legislature, as well as the governor’s constitutional carry legislation. The “fetal heartbeat” bill, which prohibits abortions once a heartbeat is detected in a fetus, usually around six weeks, was blocked in September by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This is a tremendous loss for the Senate and the state,” Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said in a Monday statement. “Mike has brought a true working-class perspective to the Senate that has been simply invaluable. An authentic citizen legislator, Mike has served with distinction as chairman of both the Judiciary and Government Operations committees while at the same time owning and operating his own small business.”

McNally made note of the legislative victories gained for Second Amendment and pro-life bills because of Bell’s “impassioned advocacy.”

(Bell was) always willing to let this freshman legislator speak his mind, ask a question whether he agreed with him or not and get his fair shake.

– Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville

In addition, Bell passed legislation in 2020 requiring more accountability in the state’s textbook selections, largely removing the state commissioner of education from the process.

Bell also chairs the General Assembly’s Sportsmen’s Caucus and is a member of the Executive Council for the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, in addition to chairing Tennessee’s Asian Carp Advisory Commission.

Bell said he decided to make his announcement early so a replacement would have plenty of time to run before the 2022 election.

Lawmakers described their fond relationship with Bell after a Monday meeting, with even Democrats saying they enjoyed working with him even when they were on the opposite side of an issue.

State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, served on the Government Operations Committee chaired by Bell when he was first elected to the House.

Bell was “always willing to let this freshman legislator speak his mind, ask a question whether he agreed with him or not and get his fair shake, and that’s not always the case, unfortunately,” Clemmons said. “And from day one, I’ve had the utmost respect for Sen. Mike Bell.”


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.