Tennessee legislative Black Caucus calls on Speaker Glen Casada to resign over racial texts, other issues

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, speaks after being sworn in on the opening day of the 111th General Assembly in January in Nashville.
Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, speaks after being sworn in on the opening day of the 111th General Assembly in January in Nashville.
photo FILE - In this May 2 file photo, House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, left, talks with Cade Cothren, right, his former chief of staff, during a House session. Cothren resigned Tuesday amid allegations of racist and sexually explicit texts. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

NASHVILLE - The Tennessee Black Caucus called early Monday evening for Republican House Speaker Glen Casada to resign, citing a lack of "satisfactory" responses from the speaker on issues that have angered black lawmakers.

It's the latest blow to Casada who already faces public calls to step down from seven Republican representatives, including Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, in the wake of controversies including sexist and racist text messages that Casada received in a group text from then-aide Cade Cothren some 2 1/2 to four years ago.

Cothren, who became Casada's chief of staff when the Williamson County representative was elected speaker in January, resigned last week.

Black Caucus Chairman G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, told reporters Monday following a marathon six-hour meeting where Casada spoke and listened to their complains for a third of the time that "we did not get satisfactory responses" on several controversies facing the GOP speaker.

Among them were allegations that a former top aide sought to "frame" a black activist for violating a no-contact order with Casada.

Since the flurry of sexual and racist texts and other issues began surfacing nearly two weeks ago, Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Senate speaker, has openly called on Casada to resign while Republican Gov. Bill Lee has said that if Casada worked in his administration he would dismiss him.

Earlier Monday, Casada met with the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators to apologize for racist texts from Cothren and sought to explain Cothren's legal pursuit of a black activist who had thrown a cup filled with coffee at the speaker.

The arrest came during a protest over the state Capitol's bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

Cothren had sent several separate racist texts to another man. But in one that also involved Casada, Cothren several years ago texted a meme about "black people," apparently in reference to a rural Tennessee legislative district with a large black population.

Casada said that while he was on the group text, he never saw it. But he vowed to reporters that he would address black lawmakers' concerns.

"I think with that text that came out from my chief of staff, that speaks volumes," Casada told reporters, again emphasizing he never saw the group text that several years ago but that and other texts that didn't include him "hurt me. It was a punch in my gut when I saw that came out."

Casada also said "we have to face that some people think the way they do. This is 2019. We've got to change it."

The Black Caucus has requested a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the text messages and an email Cothren sent to the Davidson County District Attorney which critics charged was altered to frame Justin Jones, the black activist after he was charged with an assault against Casada and ordered by a judge to stay away from Casada.

Jones had sent an email trying to meet with Casada on Feb. 25, prior to the do-not-contact order. Cothren emailed a picture of the email on March 1 after the order had come down.

According to Legislative information services officials, Jones' email had gotten caught up in a spam filter and was later sent along with others to Cothren who had complained he didn't seem to be getting all his emails.

After seeing Jones' email, Cothren forwarded it on to the Davidson County District Attorney. Legislative officials say Cothren didn't realize the Jones email had been sent prior to the order.

There was an ensuing uproar after Jones and his attorney charged it was an attempted frame because Cothren's email to the district attorney had a March 1 time stamp.

Hardaway said Casada and a legislative information system's official did not address concerns adequately during Monday's meeting.

Among Black Caucus members attending the meeting with Casada and the head of information services.

Also attending was Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga.

Hakeem said he was among Black Caucus members voting in support of the decision. The Chattanooga lawmaker said he didn't wish to comment further, noting he wants to wait until Tuesday when Hardaway issues the full statement.

Earlier in the day, Casada said he believes he still has support to stay speaker.

"I feel very strongly that there'll be overwhelming majorities still with me," Casada told reporters after meeting with legislative Black Caucus members.

The powerful speaker, elected earlier this year, is facing criticisms from both Democrats and Republicans across an array of controversies.

Regarding the sex texts several years ago with then-spokesman Cothren, Casada told reporters Monday "they'll realize" he only responded to two of the texts that Cothren sent to him and another man in the group text.

"So my sin - and that's the word I want to use because I think it properly describes it - my sin was I used base language towards to two men, not directed at anybody but towards those two men - that was inappropriate talk for a speaker of the House," Casada told reporters.

Casada added that "I apologize for those two texts. That's what I'm guilty of and I apologize for them. It pains me. That was 3 1/2 years ago."

Casada said it's "important that I stay because if two texts run someone out of office, then there is no one qualified."

He also said "we've got members all across the community that have done things that are not excusable and they're still in leadership roles. I did those two texts. I've sought and received forgiveness for it. So now it's time to put the house back together."

Several hours later, Nashville television station WTVF, which along with The Tennessean have obtained copies of some of the texts, published yet a third sex text exchange between Casada and Cothren, this one from August 2016.

It shows Casada joking yet again to a text from Cothren who was press secretary at the time for the House Republican Caucus which was chaired at the time by Casada.

WTVF said Cothren texted Casada a video of two young women dancing in Cothren's apartment.

"R they 21?" Casada asked, according to WTVF.

"It only takes 18," the aide responded, adding a smile emoji.

Casada's answer: "Lol!!! And true!"

The speaker's office had no immediate response to the report.

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

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