Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada 'sorry' over text scandal but won't resign

Casada defends sexually explicit texts as 'locker-room talk', says GOP Caucus still supportive

In this May 2, 2019, file photo, House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, left, talks with Cade Cothren, right, his chief of staff, during a House session in Nashville, Tenn. Cothren has resigned amid allegations of racist and sexually explicit texts. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
photo House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, talks with a colleague Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. The GOP-supermajority House and Senate passed a negotiated version of the bill that would increase the amount of public dollars that can pay for private tuition and other expenses. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee Republican House Speaker Glen Casada said Tuesday he is "sorry" but has no intention of stepping down in the wake of a mushrooming scandal over lewd text messages traded with a former top aide who, among other things, regaled his powerful boss with tales of his sexual and illegal drug exploits.

Less than 24 hours after Casada's chief of staff Cade Cothren resigned over the scandal, which includes the former aide's sometimes racially charged texts, the controversy showed no signs of ebbing while threatening the speaker's grip on the chamber less than six months after fellow Republicans put Casada in charge.

Casada, 60, told WTN-FM in a Tuesday morning interview that "three years ago, I participated in base locker room talk, if you will, among two adult men. I am not proud of that, I'm embarrassed about that."

But he emphasized the 74-member GOP super majority "overwhelmingly" continues to support him.

House Democrats, meanwhile, called on Casada to resign or be removed.

And in another development, the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators called on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to probe Cothren's submission to the Davidson County prosecutor of what they say was a doctored email from an activist who had been ordered to stay away from the speaker.

After one black lawmaker, Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, publicly challenged Republican Gov. Bill Lee to speak out against Cothren's racially charged texts, Lee and Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Senate speaker, issued statements, but they stopped short of calling for Casada's resignation.

"We owe it to Tennesseans to ensure they know that all of us in elected office hold ourselves to that high standard," Lee said in his statement. "Recent revelations have shaken that faith, and we need to ensure that confidence is fully restored."

After combating some of the allegations reported by television station WTVF, the 32-year-old Cothren resigned Monday after The Tennessean reported he asked a female legislative intern in 2015 for oral sex and nude photos. And in 2014 texts, he suggested he would continue "hitting on" another intern and had also made sexual advances to a female lobbyist in 2016.

Cothren also boasted to Casada about having sex with a woman in a Nashville restaurant's restroom, the newspaper reported. And in yet other texts, Cothren shared with the speaker a photo of a woman upside down next to a pole. In response, Casada texted "What about some pole dancing!!!" The Tennessean reported.

The aide referred to the woman as "wife material," with Casada asking, "Can I just touch????" the newspaper reported. Replied Cothran: "Lol maybe just once."

During the radio interview, Casada said, "I'm sorry that I did it. It won't happen again."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates revealed text messages provided by a former acquaintance that show an exchange between Casada and Cothren in which Cothren appeared to refer to people in a West Tennessee legislative district with a "Black People" meme.

In another text exchange with other friends, the television station reported, Cothren texted "black people are idiots" and insisted Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston should be called a "thug n--r."

House Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Karen Camper of Memphis said in a statement that "citizens of the State of Tennessee deserve to have a Speaker that they can trust; whose character and moral standards are beyond reproach."

She said the "actions of our Speaker are unbecoming and disrespectful, not only to the citizens of our state, but to the office he holds."

Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville charged that "actions have consequences; Speaker Casada's actions are obviously disqualifying and he must either resign or be removed."

Democrats charge the email that Cothren forwarded to Davidson County's district attorney from activist Justin Jones, the man ordered to stay away from Casada, had been tampered with, citing the mail's time stamp was tampered with to make it appear it was sent after the order came down.

House officials say it was a more innocent mistake, with the email winding up in a spam filter before eventually making its way to Cothren, who thought it came after the order so he forwarded it to the DA.

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