Hamilton County lawmakers want House Speaker Casada to go sooner, not later

House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, center, talks with people before a meeting of the House Republican Caucus at a hotel on May 20, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. The caucus was meeting to discuss the future of Casada, ensnarled in a texting scandal. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE - Hamilton County's state legislative delegation wants scandal-ridden Republican House Speaker Glen Casada to depart the post before the speaker's proposed Aug. 2 departure date.

Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who is running to succeed Casada, who agreed to step down over a scandal over a racist and three sexually explicit text messages with a top aide as well as other controversies, had previously called on the speaker to resign.

Casada controversies

"I just don't know what else to do," Carter said. "If he'd given me some reason, that might have helped me to try and understand it. But now with all these appointments and things coming, I'm just concerned about it. The bleeding continues," Carter said.

The reference to appointments stemmed from a Times Free Press report where critics noted that by delaying his resignation until Aug. 2, Casada can impact the governance of a number of state boards and commissions for years with last-minute appointments.

Among pending appointments are the House speaker's three-member allotted picks for the new nine-member Tennessee Lottery Corporation Sports Wagering Advisory Council established under the state's new online sports gaming law.

Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, who is also eyeing a bid for the expected speaker vacancy, said in a text that "the entire House and the Republican Caucus seem to be on the same page as it relates to the issue of moving the Speaker election to a point of closure."

Noting that she opposed a date "in the distant future" for the Republican Caucus to select its candidate, Smith said, "I prefer the idea of a June session but understand the reality of vacations and other conflicts that may prevent better participation on shorter notice. Again, I oppose a transition that leaves this decision for a future date next year or the next."

Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, said, "I definitely think he needs to go sooner. He can resign. We have a speaker pro tem who can step in until we could have an election at whatever time is appropriate.

"I definitely think he doesn't have the confidence of the Legislature, that's clear," Hazlewood added. "I think he doesn't have the confidence of the governor and other people across the state."

Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said he is ready to take over the speaker's post in the event of Casada stepping down. But in his statement last week setting the Aug. 2 departure date, Casada said he is also asking Republican Gov. Bill Lee to call lawmakers into special session the same day, effectively denying Dunn automatically becoming speaker.

Lee has been non-committal on that.

Rep. Esther Helton, R-East Ridge, said, "in light of this keeping going on and on and on, I'm ready to do it earlier if we can possibly do that. I don't know if it will work out, that it will happen or not. But I'm in favor of that simply because I just think it's causing so much divisiveness.

"I don't know," she added wryly, "I'd kinda like to focus on something else the rest of the summer."

Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, said, "I have no problem with asking for him leaving immediately. But really I just concur with what the Republican Caucus is saying, by the end of June. No later than that."

Majority Leader Lamberth said he continues to "push for a special session, hopefully by the end of June but as soon as possible. Members of the leadership and the caucus are continuing to discuss that and discuss that with folks from the governor's office and folks outside the legislature to see what is the best step forward."

After the Republican Caucus's May 21 no-confidence vote, Casada said he hoped to regain GOP lawmakers' trust. But that changed hours later when Lee threatened to call lawmakers into special session if Casada did not agree to resign the post.

He announced last week he would do so Aug. 2, setting off yet more angst within his own caucus.

In addition to the leaked racist and sexist text messages exchanged with his then-top aide Cade Cothren three years ago, Casada has been under fire over other controversies.

After the text controversy erupted, Casada said he was asking the House Ethics Committee to render a legal advisory opinion on his actions. Carter, a committee member, said he was presented an opinion that exonerated the speaker of any wrongdoing.

Justin Jones, a black activist, and his attorney charged that Cothren sought to frame him by charging that Jones in an email had violated a do-not-contact order involving Casada.

Another blowup involved a news report that the FBI had been making inquiries into the House's passage of Lee's school voucher bill, which initially tied on a 49-49 vote. That changed to 50-48 after Casada held the vote tally board open to give him and aides time to twist arms and get a 50th yes vote needed for passage.

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