Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada attacks Mike Carter over criticisms

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 - Battling to keep his leadership post, Republican House Speaker Glen Casada attacked state Rep. Mike Carter late Friday afternoon in an email to GOP Caucus members who are set to consider a no-confidence vote on Casada next week.

Among other issues, the speaker lashed out at the Ooltewah lawmaker's suggestion Casada was trying to "rig and predetermine" a draft ethics opinion on a text messaging scandal involving the speaker and a former top aide.

In advance of the Republican Caucus' planned meeting Monday, Casada called Carter's charge about trying to steer the House Ethics Committee the "most maddening allegation made to date," saying "I have done absolutely nothing to influence any work of the Ethics Committee. Period."

Casada controversies

Casada called it "nothing more than a deliberate attempt to mislead and an absolute disgrace from someone that should know better. At the very least, he should have had the decency to call me first."

He also criticized other assertions Carter made in his letter to GOP Caucus members.

Carter, an Ethics Committee member, fired back, telling the Times Free Press Friday evening, "Now, think about that. I've got to 'clear' it with him. I've got to clear it with him before I say something about him? Now that's power."

An attorney and former Hamilton County judge, Carter said he sees Casada's email as part of the embattled speaker's effort "to get the members to agree to censure him as his only punishment," instead of the proposed no confidence vote.

On Monday, the 73-member House GOP Caucus is scheduled to meet behind closed doors to discuss controversial sexist and racist text threads between Casada, his then top aide Cade Cothren and an unidentified man said to be a former GOP political operative.

Casada, who at the time was GOP Caucus chairman, responded to three of Cothren's texts in which Cothren had boasted about having sex with women or made sexist comments.

In one case, Cothren bragged of having had sex with a woman in a Nashville hot chicken restaurant's restroom, The Tennessean has reported.

Casada jokingly or approvingly responded to three of the texts.

Cothren also once stated in a text that he had snorted cocaine in a state office building.

Later, Cothren became Casada's chief of staff when the Williamson County Republican was elected House speaker in January.

The speaker faces other controversies, including charges by a black activist that Cothren sought to frame him after his arrest for assaulting Casada by throwing a cup filled with coffee at the speaker.

Cothren forwarded an email to Davidson County prosecutors from the activist which he said showed the activist had violated a no contact order. After learning that the message had been sent before the no-contact order was handed down, Cothren said he had been mistaken. The matter is under investigation.

Following Cothren's resignation, Casada later directed the Ethics Committee to look at his handling of Cothren. The panel is chaired by Casada's appointed deputy speaker, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.

On Monday, Hill summoned some members of the ethics panel to his office, meeting individually with them, along with two staff attorneys, and presented them with a proposed draft opinion.

Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville, said he saw Hill's discussion as an effort to shape the opinion. So did another Democrat and Carter.

In a Thursday letter to the GOP Caucus first provided to the Times Free Press, Carter said he was shocked by the proposed "statement of facts" proposed for the draft opinion and laid blame for it at Casada's doorstep.

Carter wrote that if Casada "is willing to rig and predetermine an outcome of the ethics committee this week, in my opinion he is not fit to hold the trust of his office or the state of Tennessee."

"I could argue that the text messages are disqualifying," he continued. "I could argue that knowing and failing to report felony criminal conduct in his presence is disqualifying but respectfully I state that attempting to predetermine an opinion from the Ethics Committee is the final straw for me."

Citing Carter's statements regarding his alleged "predetermined" remarks and more, Casada called it "another example of absolute fiction being perpetuated as fact."

"To suggest so is a slap in the face to any legal staffer or committee member who actually attempted to work on the advisory opinion that I requested," Casada wrote. "The Ethics Committee is split 5-5 in a bipartisan manner and I asked for the request in earnest. If anyone would like to call me, including Representative Carter, I'm happy to discuss it further."

Carter fired back, saying, "I'm not lying and Matthew Hill knows it." Carter noted that the attorneys who were present know as well, although he's not sure they can be made to testify to that.

As for his charge about Cothren's felony use of cocaine, Carter referenced news accounts of the then-aide boasting years ago in another text of snorting cocaine in a government office building.

Casada wrote "I readily admit to each of you that I sent inappropriate text messages three years ago that made inappropriate jokes about women. If you believe the handful of texts that I sent disqualify me as Speaker, then I must accept that and move on."

Regarding Cothren's cocaine use, Casada said he "would never fail to report any felony conduct." And he said the special prosecutor is in the midst of concluding his investigation into Cothren's emails "and I remain confident that my staff and I will be cleared of any wrongdoing very soon."

Carter observed that possession of a gram of cocaine is a felony.

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