Some in GOP chafe new building named after Cordell Hull

Friday, February 24, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 8

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers are nearing a move into freshly overhauled offices at the state Capitol complex, but some Republicans are chafing at the building being named after Democrat Cordell Hull.

Hull was the country's longest-serving secretary of state under President Franklin Roosevelt. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in creating the United Nations and for his work toward improving international relations by resolving bitter trade disputes.

Republican Sen. Frank Nicely of Strawberry Plains asked during a presentation about the new legislative offices on Thursday what lawmakers could do about changing the building's name from what he called "that old Democrat socialist."

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, quickly offered that all it would take to change the name would be to pass a bill. Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, appeared to oppose a change, noting that Hull was from his district.

Hull was born a two-room log cabin in rural Pickett County in 1871 and served in the state House and the U.S. Senate before being named secretary of state in 1933. Poor health forced him to retire from Roosevelt's Cabinet in 1944.

But Roosevelt wrote that "I shall continue to pray that you as the Father of the United Nations may preside over its first session," but Hull wasn't well enough to attend.

Roosevelt told Hull that he was "the one person in all the world who has done the most to make this great plan for peace an effective fact."

Lawmakers in 2009 rejected a proposal to erect statues on the Capitol grounds to honor the state's Nobel Peace Prize winners: Hull and former Vice President Al Gore. The measure failed when it only received 15 votes, two short of the minimum needed to pass.

Then-Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey was the only Republican to vote in favor of the measure. Four Republicans abstained. All other GOP members voted against the proposal.

The call to change the name of the Cordell Hull building wasn't immediately embraced by legislative leaders. State Rep. Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican and chairman of the powerful House budget subcommittee, said he sees little need for a change.

"He was a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives," McCormick said. "And as long as he wasn't a state senator, I think it's OK to leave his name on the building."