Wilson County’s state House members gave their thoughts on Republican House Speaker Glen Casada and multiple calls for him to resign amid scandals.
Casada, a former House GOP Caucus chairman and majority leader, is under fire with calls to resign from some Republicans and nearly all Democrats amid the scandal that involved text messages with a former top aide, 32-year-old Cade Cothren, who stepped down last Monday.
Cothren, who in one text discussed using cocaine in a state office building, was Casada’s press secretary until his promotion to the newly elected speaker’s chief of staff in January.
Black lawmakers are furious over some of Cothren’s racist text messages, too. The messages were leaked.
State Rep. Susan Lynn laid out her arguments for Casada to remain House speaker in a statement Wednesday to The Democrat.
“I do not rush to judgment when I hear bad news about others, because there is always more to the story that is unknown,” said Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet. “I have investigated each of the allegations and as far as I can tell, I do not believe that the Speaker should resign.
“There are basically four allegations, inappropriate text messages, an accusation of the manipulation of a date on an email by his chief of staff, listening devices in the Cordell Hull building and the white noise machines.
“In 2016, there were a small number of inappropriate texts privately shared as friends between then Tennessee House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, the House GOP press secretary Cade Cothren, and a disgruntled former employee. Speaker Casada did not actually remember these texts because they were very trivial goings back and forth outside of work, but he has taken full responsibility for the content, and he has apologized.
“The disgruntled former employee also shared some inappropriate text messages from 2015 and 2016 that were between only himself and Cothren, which involved partying and drug use. The behavior and the messages were unknown to the speaker until [News Channel 5 reporter] Phil Williams showed him. The speaker could not even believe that Cade would ever take part in such activity. However, when confronted last week, Cothren confessed, and the speaker asked for his resignation.
“The email manipulation has since been proven false. There are no listening devices in the Cordell Hull building other than the clerks’ office video recording system for committee meetings, and the white noise machines were installed because the walls are thin.
“It should be understood that the three text messages that included the speaker in the thread are very old, long before he was speaker of the House and at a time when he was going through a divorce, and it is easy to understand that at such a time he might have leaned on the friendship of these two young staffers. We should be careful to not judge harshly when we come into one chapter in the story of someone’s life. Speaker Casada is a great leader, a very humble, kind and generous person and a loyal friend, which is very rare in the political world.”
State Rep. Clark Boyd, who was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for a work trip, said he would know more after a Republican Caucus meeting scheduled for Monday.
“As legislators, we are held to a higher standard and even more so are those who serve in positions of leadership,” said Boyd, R-Lebanon. “I am very disappointed by the actions and behavior that have recently come to light surrounding our leadership in the House of Representatives. I have spoken with our speaker on multiple occasions and have expressed to him my disappointment. I have given him my recommendation, and I will continue to pray for him as he considers my advice, as well as the advice of many other legislators. The House Republican Caucus will meet on Monday to decide what actions to take as we move forward.”
State Sen. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, said he didn’t want to comment on incidents in the House.
“I know the House has their own ethics committee, as well as their own rules on how they handle House issues,” Pody said. “As a senator, it is not something that I will be involved in. Thank you for asking.”
A seventh state Republican representative called on Casada to step down amid a scandal over lewd text messages, eavesdropping allegations and reports of a FBI investigation into the school vouchers bill vote.
“Yes, I do,” Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, of Lancaster, told The Hartsville Vidette on Friday. “The choices made by these people – including the speaker – should have consequences. That teaches a lesson to everyone.”
Weaver, a religious conservative, said, “If one’s going to step up to a place of authority – mayor, county commissioner – there is a level of representation you’ve got to bring to the table. …Bad choices bring bad consequences and bad consequences have victims. Good choices make good things happen.”
Six other GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, of Signal Mountain, previously called on Casada, a Williamson County Republican elected speaker in January, to step down.
Others include Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, of Knoxville; Rep. David Hawk, of Greeneville; Rep. Jeremy Faison, of Cosby; Majority Whip Rick Tillis, of Lewisburg; and Rep. Sam Whitson, of Franklin.
Others have raised serious doubts and concerns about Casada, 60, including Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah.
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker from Oak Ridge, last week said “I believe it would be in the best interest of the legislature and the state of Tennessee for Speaker Casada to vacate his office at this time.”
McNally emphasized that it’s the House’s decision.
While stopping short of calling for Casada’s resignation, Republican Gov. Bill Lee, also of Williamson County, said if Casada were a member of his administration, he would ask him to resign.
Meanwhile, a Nashville television station reported Friday that FBI agents started talking to lawmakers asking whether any improper incentives were offered to support Lee’s school voucher bill, which narrowly passed the House on a 51-49 vote after first deadlocking 49-49 for 40 minutes.
WTVF reported FBI agents are interested in whether anything of value – such as campaign contributions – was offered to anyone in exchange for their vote.
The station said it was unclear whether those inquiries are part of a preliminary investigation or a development in an ongoing probe. Casada played a key role in pushing the measure through the chamber.
While stopping short of calling for Casada to step down, Lee made his firmest remarks yet about the speaker who faces multiple calls to resign over a scandal involving sexually explicit and misogynistic texts and other allegations.
Asked last Thursday evening if he would ask fellow Williamson County resident Casada to resign if he were a member of his administration, Lee replied, “I would.”
Lee also told reporters after a Nashville graduation ceremony for technology and trade students that “given what has unfolded in the past days, I have a responsibility in the executive branch to speak to what culture should look like, to the standard that should exist in the executive branch.”
The governor said he has “communicated that to my team, and it’s a standard of integrity, honest and transparency, values and principles that are consistent with Tennesseans.
“I think some of the events that have come to light in the last several days are not consistent with that, and if an employee in my administration acted in a way that wasn’t consistent to that they wouldn’t be in my administration.”
Still, Lee said, it’s House representatives’ call and not his on what course of action to take.
“It’s important to remember that the members of the House of Representatives have the responsibility to choose a leader, and it’s not the governor’s responsibility, and it’s important that they weigh in because it is their responsibility to do so,” Lee said.
It was an echo of similar remarks made earlier Thursday by McNally, who said that if Casada were a senator he would “probably” ask him to resign and added that “if it were me that did some of those things, I’d probably be packing my bags for Oak Ridge.”
Andy Sher with the Chattanooga Times Free Press contributed to this report.