Tennessee House GOP candidates for speaker vow not to follow Casada's style

Staff file photo / Rep. Mike Carter speaks during the Education Mini-Summit at the Volkswagen Conference Center on Sept. 20, 2016.
Staff file photo / Rep. Mike Carter speaks during the Education Mini-Summit at the Volkswagen Conference Center on Sept. 20, 2016.

NASHVILLE - In his campaign to succeed controversy-plagued Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, Rep. Mike Carter is promising "fair treatment to all and retribution to none" for Casada-appointed committee chairpersons and vice chairpersons.

Carter, an Ooltewah lawmaker seeking the planned July 24 Republican Caucus' nomination for speaker, also says in his letter to the 30 chairpersons and vice chairpersons "that you will retain your current positions if I am elected Speaker.

"Our 2020 election cycle including President Trump will motivate our opponents and we must be careful to do nothing to give an issue in your race," Carter says in the letter. "We will restore integrity, trust and confidence in the House by promoting the excellent work that each of you perform in your role as a House leader."

An attorney, former Hamilton County General Sessions judge and current chairman of the House Civil Subcommittee on Justice, Carter is among six announced candidates hoping to win the 73-member GOP Caucus nomination.

The nomination is tantamount to election on the House floor given that Democrats have only 26 members in the 99-member chamber.

Meanwhile, Former House GOP Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams, of Cookeville, recently announced his formal candidacy for speaker, bringing the total number of official candidates to six.

In his letter to caucus members, Williams pledged that he would join with them to "begin rebuilding the foundations that have been shaken over the past several months while continuing the momentum and success for all Tennesseans that has been achieved under House Republicans since taking the majority in November of 2010."

Williams reminded GOP lawmakers how he has visited and listened to their "thoughts, concerns, and collective vision for our caucus."

"I believe that with a model of servant leadership we can once again have the freedom to vote our individual districts while still leading the state and, consequently, the nation," Williams added.

In his own letter to top committee Republicans, Carter, who announced his bid in late May, said, "your interest and desires to serve in a given area will be given great weight towards any additional assignments that will be made."

Carter also told them "we will revert back to the long established House rules that vests the power in the members, not the speaker. My request to serve you is not about me, it's about you."

Other Republicans officially seeking the GOP nomination are Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville, former Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson, of Clarksville, Casada-appointed Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill of Jonesborough and Rep. Jay Reedy, of Erin.

Republican Rep. Robin Smith, of Hixson, a former Tennessee GOP chairwoman and like Hill seen as an ally of Casada's, has explored a bid but made no announcement.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has called the General Assembly to come back Aug. 23 for the special session during which representatives are expected to replace Casada.

Elected to the post in January, Casada's first months in the House's top post exploded amid a cluster of controversies, including explicitly sexual and racist text messages with a top aide, Cade Cothren, as well as Casada's brusque leadership style.

The latter led to complaints by members that they were sometimes being pressured to vote against district voters' wishes, a prime example being Lee's school voucher bill.

Other controversies include charges by a black activist, Justin Jones, and his attorney that Cothren sought to frame Jones with an email that Cothren said showed the activist violated a do-not-contact order involving Casada.

There had also been complaints that Casada dramatically boosted staff and spending with charges that he hired several political operatives as staffers, with at least one of them having a "no-show" job, and fears among staff and even lawmakers that the operatives were serving as "hall monitors" and spying on them.

Last week, a top House Democrat, Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, of Nashville, called for state Comptroller Justin Wilson, elected to the post by fellow Republican in the Legislature, to investigate all spending actions taken by Casada. That included, Stewart said, whether taxpayers were footing the bill for some political operations. Stewart said House representatives need to have something in hand by the time they return for the August special session.

Asked whether Wilson would investigate, comptroller spokesman John Dunn noted in a statement that the "Comptroller's Office has broad authority to review public expenditures. It is our policy to not comment further."

In the waning days of this year's legislative session, Carter, a House Ethics Committee member, charged that a proposed ethics opinion sought by Casada on his handling of Cothren was really intended to exonerate the speaker. Casada dropped the effort.

After losing a 45-24 confidence vote on May 22 in the GOP Caucus, Casada said he hoped to earn Republicans' faith. But after Lee said he would call lawmakers into special session to determine the issue, Casada announced he would resign from the post and later set an Aug. 2 date for his resignation.

Casada has not publicly endorsed anyone in the contest. But he has attacked Carter at least twice.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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