NASHVILLE - In their first public comments on the text messaging scandal that has rocked Tennessee Republican House Speaker Glen Casada and led to the resignation of the speaker's chief of staff, Republican Gov. Bill Lee and Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally weighed in Tuesday shortly before a previously scheduled joint appearance in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
"When we choose to enter public service, we have an obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard and cultivate an environment of professionalism and respect," said Lee, who earlier was challenged by House Democrats to speak out on the texts between Casada and former aide Cade Cothren in which Cothren boasted about sex, made racist comments and discussed his illicit drug use.
Lee also said in his statement that "we owe it to Tennesseans to ensure they know that all of us in elected office hold ourselves to that high standard. Recent revelations have shaken that faith, and we need to ensure that confidence is fully restored."
McNally, the Senate speaker from Oak Ridge, said that "Senate leadership and I are greatly disappointed by the inappropriate actions and attitudes revealed in recent news reports.
"Every person who interacts with the state legislature should be treated with the utmost respect," McNally said. "It is deeply troubling that some have fallen short of this standard. Tennesseans expect and deserve better from those who serve the public trust."
Meanwhile, McNally added, "Senate leadership is united in our commitment that members and staff continue to uphold the standard Tennesseans demand of their public officials."
Hours earlier, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators held a news conference objecting to the text messages.
Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, challenged Lee to speak publicly on the House uproar.
"We have to call on Gov. Lee to take action. We have to. He campaigned on Christian values, family morals and all the things that a good Christian would do. Now the behavior of [Cothren] and the speaker of the House does not reflect those. And we need him [Lee] to take action. Going forward, knowing how that Glen Casada and Cade Cothren feel about African Americans, it will definitely be difficult to come in here and have a good working environment."
Dixie also called on Casada to resign.
Earlier Tuesday, Casada said in a WWTN-FM interview with host Brian Wilson that "I'm embarrassed about that."
Casada said that "in the last couple of years, I have come to realize ... I can't do this and it is not appropriate behavior. So, yes, I participated in locker-room talk with two adult men that was not intended to go to anyone else, and I was wrong. In the last several years, that kind of talk has not entered and left my mouth."
"I'm sorry I did it," Casada went on to say. "I'm embarrassed I did it. But it's not going to happen again."
The speaker's "locker-room" remarks harken back to the 2016 presidential campaign when then-Republican candidate Donald Trump's remarks about women ignited a furor, which Trump later dismissed as "locker-room banter."
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.