Embattled Tennessee House Speaker Casada announces Aug. 2 resignation, asks Gov. Lee to call special session on replacement

Speaker of the Tennessee House Glen Casada, R-Franklin, is poised to apparently be only the second speaker of the state House to resign his position.
Speaker of the Tennessee House Glen Casada, R-Franklin, is poised to apparently be only the second speaker of the state House to resign his position.

NASHVILLE - Embattled Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada made it official Tuesday, saying he will step down Aug. 2 in the wake of fellow Republicans' no confidence vote last month in response to a storm of controversy over sexually explicit text messages and other issues.

After talking with top GOP leaders earlier in the day, Casada sent out a one-paragraph letter, announcing his resignation on the first Friday of August at 8 a.m. He also asked Republican Gov. Bill Lee to call lawmakers into special session to elect his replacement.

But that's not soon enough for some GOP and Democratic leaders, with Republicans preferring a resignation later this month and the chamber's top Democrat calling for Casada to resign immediately.

In a later statement, Lee said "now that the Speaker has announced his intended timeline, we will continue to be in close communication with House leadership and members to determine the best outcome for the House and for Tennessee."

Earlier, Lee told reporters he would consider calling a special session if House leaders requested it, noting "I'll be listening for the House's intent and their process about how they're going to choose their next leader."

Casada controversies

Casada, who in January was finally elected to the speakership position he'd coveted for years, will become the first Tennessee speaker to resign since a Senate leader stepped down in 1931. In 1893, House members voted to remove a speaker after he was disbarred for swindling a client.

In Casada's case, the 59-year-old Williamson County lawmaker ran into trouble when text messages from several years ago were leaked to Nashville media in which he responded jokingly or approvingly to a top aide's tales about his sexual exploits.

There was also a racist text from the aide, Cade Cothren, whom Casada later named as his chief of staff when he became speaker. Cothren also boasted of using cocaine in a state office building. While acknowledging he had responded to three of the sexist texts, Casada said he had not seen many of the text messages from Cothren, including those with racist statements or those about drug use.

But other problems quickly piled up, with a black activist and his attorney charging Cothren sought to frame the activist for violating a do-not-contact order involving Casada.

And after Casada sought an advisory ethics opinion on his handling of issues, ethics panel member and state Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, charged that the draft was aimed at exonerating the speaker of all wrongdoing and called on him to resign.

On May 21, the 73-member GOP Caucus voted 45-24 to say they no longer had confidence in his ability to lead. Casada initially said he hoped to work to regain their support, but at that point Lee stepped in and said he needed to step down. The speaker said he would but set no date, saying he first intended to take a planned vacation to Europe.

After coming back over the weekend, he began talking to GOP leaders.

Now, at least five Republicans, including Carter, are looking to succeed Casada, with Carter and Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill of Jonesborough already announcing their bids. Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, a former state GOP chair, is eyeing the race, as is Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn of Knoxville and GOP Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville.

It's not clear why Casada chose the Aug. 2 date. It's his 60th birthday. But it will give him about two more months of his speaker pay at just under $73,000, which is about triple that of other lawmakers. He also continues to enjoy protection from a Tennessee state trooper who doubles as his driver.

Majority Leader William Lamberth of Portland, who along with Dunn, Sexton and Hill were among lawmakers meeting with Casada this week, said "all the rest of the leadership team would have preferred this would happen a little bit quicker."

Before the end of June would have been better, Lamberth said, "so we could get back to work." Still, Lamberth added, "even though this isn't quite as soon as I would like, I like the speaker is choosing a date certain to resign. That keeps us out of a legally questionable" forced removal.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville said Casada should immediately resign.

"What's the matter with this afternoon?" Stewart asked. "What legitimate business does he have? He needs to resign right now."

Stewart said "obviously looks like a transparent effort to give him time to pick a successor, and that's the last thing we need is for the team that's had all these problems to put a new talking head in charge. We need a clean sweep."

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

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