Beth grew up the youngest of five children in a family who valued faith and education. At the age of 16, Beth came to Tennessee to attend David Lipscomb University, and went on to earn a master’s degree from George Peabody College for Teachers and a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University.
Her interest in government and politics was inspired by her grandmother, and while teaching political science at Belmont University, Beth ran for State Representative in the 56th District, coming up just short of being elected. Two years later, she ran again, winning handily and has served her district with distinction since then.
Throughout her legislative career, Beth has been a strong advocate for tougher sexual abuse laws, victims’ rights, welfare reform, children’s issues and most notably, education, spearheading many of the state’s education reform laws.
As Speaker, Beth has led on many of the state’s boldest reform initiatives, reducing taxes, keeping Tennessee the nation’s lowest debt state and working to make the state the fastest improving in education in the country.
A friend of small business, Beth was twice awarded the coveted Guardian of Small Business Award from the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB).
In addition to her legislative accomplishments, Beth served as chair of the state Republican Party from 2001 to 2004. During that time, she was instrumental in the Republicans taking control of the state Senate for the first time in 140 years.
Beth has won numerous awards, including:
- The American Cancer Society Legislative Leadership Award
- The 2013 Conservation Legislator Award
- The Champion for Children Award
- The Junior Leagues of Tennessee’s 2012 Legislator of the Year Award.
- Two-time recipient of the Harold Bradley Award for Excellence in Education Policy.
- The 2015 Legislator Award from Mental Health America, a national recognition for her work on mental health issues.
- The Tennessee Press Association’s Open Government Award
Beth has been married to Sam Harwell, a 6th generation Tennessean, for nearly 25 years. They have three children – Allie, Sam and Tucker. Beth enjoys spending time with her family, likes the outdoors, and is an avid reader.