Sargent, finance chairman of Tennessee House, to retire
FRANKLIN, Tenn. (AP) — Republican state Rep. Charles Sargent, the chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee, said he won’t seek another term in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Sargent announced to the Williamson Herald on Thursday that he plans to retire at the end of his 11th two-year term because of health concerns. The 72-year-old insurance agent from Franklin said he’s dealt with skin cancer in the past, and that he has recently been diagnosed with a related condition.
Sargent, a New York native, was first elected to the House in 1996. As finance chairman he played a key role in crafting the state’s annual budget, a $37 billion spending plan in the current fiscal year.
But that position has also made him the target of criticism within his own party when he has had to say no to various colleagues’ pet projects and initiatives. This year, Sargent responded angrily to attempts by a group of fellow Republicans to blow up the carefully crafted budget bill with hundreds of millions of new spending. The Republicans were upset about the passage of a gas tax hike.
Sargent told the chamber that the proposed changes would cause the spending bill to violate state constitutional requirements for passing a balanced budget, and that he would not vote for it in that form. After a series of heated debates and closed-door meetings, the uprising was quelled and the budget was passed largely in its original form on an 83-2 vote.
Sargent survived a primary challenge in 2014 by just 256 votes after being targeted by state gun rights activists who blamed him for the defeat of a bill to allow Tennesseans to carry handguns in public without a state-issued permit.
Two years later, Sargent beat the same challenger by 35 percentage points.
Sargent was an unwitting co-sponsor of a bill filed on behalf of a fake company called E-Cycle that was set up as part of the FBI’s “Tennessee Waltz” bribery sting operation. Five former lawmakers were sent to prison for taking payoffs to influence legislation, including one Republican who asked Sargent to support it.
“I took a look at it, and it was basically a recycling bill,” Sargent, who wasn’t charged with any wrongdoing, said after the lawmakers’ arrests. “It would keep this kind of equipment out of landfills.”
Sargent is the latest longtime lawmaker to announce his retirement from the Legislature. The two lawmakers tied for the longest active service in the House, Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and Steve McDaniel of Parker’s Crossroads, are both leaving the chamber next year. Harwell is running for governor.