Tennessee House GOP Caucus members to meet to discuss political fate of embattled Speaker Glen Casada

In this May 1, 2019, photo, House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, stands at the microphone during a House session in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
In this May 1, 2019, photo, House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, stands at the microphone during a House session in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee House GOP Caucus members are expected to meet Monday to discuss the political future of embattled Republican Speaker Glen Casada.

The move comes as the first-term speaker's continued leadership has been rocked by a series of controversies after lewd and racist group text messages between Casada, his then-chief of staff, Cade Cothren, and an unidentified man were leaked to news organizations.

The meeting was pushed by Reps. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, and Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, who gathered the signatures of 10 other Republicans to convene the caucus. The vote will be closed to the public at the request of Zachary and Sexton.

Among Republicans signing the letter were Reps. Mike Carter of Ooltewah; Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain, and Dan Howell of Georgetown, according to a copy of the missive posted by The Nashville Scene.

In his letter to Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, Rep. Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station, notes those signing shouldn't be "construed" as taking a position regarding Casada.

But Hazlewood has publicly said the speaker should step down and Carter has been highly critical of Casada, as well. The House Democratic Caucus has also called on Casada to resign.

"The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the sentiment of the Caucus regarding support for Speaker Glen Casada and to conduct, if duly moved by the Caucus, a secret ballot vote to establish whether Speaker Casada has the support of the Caucus to continue in his current position as Speaker of the House of Representatives," Rep. Jerry Sexton wrote. "The overarching goal is that we move forward as a constructive, united Caucus for the House as a body on behalf of all Tennesseans. The meeting is called for these purposes and no other.

Disclosure of the group texts, which took place between 2014 and 2016 and before Casada became speaker in January, have knocked the speaker into a political tailspin with some Republicans saying his support falls far short of a majority of the 73-member GOP Caucus.

Texts initially showed Casada responding approvingly to two of Cothren's sexual texts. Among them was one in which Cothren boasted of having had sex with a woman in a Nashville restaurant restroom.

Upon being confronted by the media regarding the texts, Casada initially questioned the texts' authenticity, then dismissed his participation in them as "locker-room talk." Later, he announced he was taking "complete ownership" of his responses, then on Monday told reporters "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."

A short while after making that statement, Nashville television station WTVF, which along with The Tennessean has obtained copies of some of the texts, published yet a third sex text exchange between Casada and Cothren, this one from August 2016.

The speaker says he never saw many of the texts, including a racist text from Cothren and another text in which Cothren bragged about using cocaine in a state government building.

At the time of the texts, Cothren was serving as Casada's spokesman either when he was GOP Caucus chairman or, later, as majority leader.

The speaker has other problems on his hands as well. The Tennessee Black Caucus on Monday called on Casada to resign over what they allege was an attempt by Cothren to frame a black activist, Justin Jones, who had been previously charged with assaulting Casada for throwing a cup of coffee at him. Cothren claimed Jones had tried to contact Casada via email after being put under a no-contact court order and forwarded the email to the Davidson County District Attorney as proof Jones had violated the order. Later, however, it was discovered that the email had been sent before the no-contact order was issued.

The now ex-aide Cothren later said that after he learned of the time stamp on the activist's email, which legislative officials say was previously caught in a spam filter, he asked the DA to disregard the matter.

Black Caucus members have also asked the U.S. Attorney in the Middle District of Tennessee to investigate that and the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to investigate other issues in House operations.

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

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