NASHVILLE - Tennessee House Democrats are calling for a wide-ranging investigation into expenditures and personnel hirings by the Legislature and, specifically, Republican Glen Casada, who is resigning as House speaker under pressure on Aug. 2.
With an Aug. 23 special session scheduled for the GOP-led House to elect a new speaker, Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart told reporters Wednesday "We're not going to allow a special session to become a tool for a cover-up."
A Nashville attorney, Stewart said he has fired off letters formally requesting Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson, a Republican legislative appointee, and Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk, a Democrat, investigate.
Stewart said he also filed a public records request with Casada's chief of staff seeking expenditure records.
The requests target expenditures and actions taken by Casada after he became speaker this year on Jan. 8.
Casada, a Williamson County Republican, announced he would step down as speaker following a no confidence vote by fellow Republicans in June over issues including sexually explicit and racist texts exchanged with a former top staffer.
Stewart charged that Casada used taxpayer dollars to "lead a lifestyle of the rich and famous."
In his letter to Wilson, Stewart requested the comptroller's office open an investigation into all expenditures authorized by Casada, as well as all staff positions filled by Casada, including whether any staff positions "were misused for political purposes."
Citing Nashville news accounts that House spending soared by $3 million under Casada, Stewart said "We know much of it was misused. How precisely was that money spent?"
Casada has acknowledged bulking up staff hires. And he paid his then-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, almost $200,000 a year before Cothren stepped down over the sexist and racist text scandal, as well as acknowledging he had snorted cocaine in his office several years ago.
Nashville news organizations have reported Casada hired political operatives including Michael Lotfi and Shawn Hatmaker, who worked as a legislative research analyst. They and others were accused by staff of having "no-show" state jobs, sometimes acting as "hall monitors" and "spies" for Casada.
"You're [sic] prompt attention would be greatly appreciated, as these issues will provide information needed prior to the election of a new speaker of the House," Stewart wrote in the letter to Wilson.
Nashville Democrats have previously asked Funk to investigate some aspects of Casada's expenditures, including the "no show" job. "It's time for him to explain what the next step is. Obviously, that's a potential crime that needs to be investigated," Stewart said.
Asked by a reporter if he thinks the Comptroller's Office will listen to Democrats and act, Stewart said he thinks that Wilson is "independent" enough to do so.
Efforts to reach Wilson spokesman John Dunn on Wednesday afternoon were unsuccessful.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.