Embattled House Speaker Casada faces 'no confidence' vote today in GOP Caucus but supporters may offer censure motion

Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / State Rep. and Speaker of the Tennessee House Glen Casada speaks during the Hamilton County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner at the Westin Hotel on Friday, April 26, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / State Rep. and Speaker of the Tennessee House Glen Casada speaks during the Hamilton County Republican Party's annual Lincoln Day Dinner at the Westin Hotel on Friday, April 26, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

NASHVILLE - Less than five months after becoming speaker of the Tennessee House, Republican Glen Casada's political future will be on the line today with his fellow GOP representatives.

The 73-member Republican Caucus is scheduled this afternoon to debate a proposed no confidence motion on Casada, 59, amid a nearly three-week storm over scandals involving racist and misogynistic texts as well as other issues.

That's not to mention a call by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who last week said Casada should resign, charging the speaker in his view sought to "rig" a draft ethics advisory opinion he'd requested.

It's among a series of controversies that have embarrassed, roiled and angered many of Casada's GOP colleagues. They've also spurred House Democrats and the legislative Black Caucus, as well as Republican Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, to call for him to resign.

All of it now threatens the Williamson County lawmaker's hold on power.

"He's walking a tight rope and it's easy to fall off - or [be] pushed off. Or thrown off," Vanderbilt University political professor and longtime Tennessee political observer Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer said of what Casada faces.

But, Oppenheimer added regarding Casada, "you don't know, he's already survived two or three weeks."

In fact, a push for a less severe punishment is likely from some of Casada's caucus supporters or others on the fence, who accept the speaker's later apologies on the texts and explanations on other issues.

They could offer a formal censure motion which while embarrassing would likely leave Casada still standing. That's provided for in their bylaws and requires two-thirds approval.

Casada, meanwhile, has vehemently denied Carter's charge that he sought language in the proposed advisory opinion to exonerate himself of any blame and attacked Carter, an attorney and a former Hamilton County judge, for his statement.

And the speaker has fought back on other charges as well.

Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville was still working on various issues over the weekend and was said to be preparing the "no confidence" motion and researching rules for them to vote on Monday.

The speaker's woes erupted earlier this month after a series of 2016 text messages were leaked to Nashville media involving then-GOP Caucus Chairman Casada, his then-spokesman Cade Cothren and a third unidentified man said to be a former political operative. In them, Casada jokingly or approvingly responded to three misogynistic texts, including Cothren's claim of having sex with a woman in a restroom.

Cothren went on to serve as spokesman for Casada after he later became majority leader and this year became the new the speaker's chief of staff. He resigned May 6 in the ensuing uproar.

Casada initially denounced the first two texts, revealed by The Tennessean, as fake, but later acknowledged they were genuine, apologized and said that was all there was. Only a few hours later, WTVF disclosed yet a third sex-related text the speaker had responded to, and also revealed the racist text, which Casada didn't respond to and says he didn't see.

WTVF has also reported that the FBI appears to be conducting at least a preliminary inquiring examination into circumstances surrounding a controversial, late-session school voucher bill, which Casada ramrodded through the House.

The other explosion that erupted late last week and is almost certainly bound to come up is Casada's seeking an advisory opinion from the House Ethics Committee, whose members he appoints, "concerning my actions taken relative to [Cothren's] resignation."

Last week, Ethics Committee Chairman Matthew Hill, R-Jonesbrough, called in and met with at least five lawmakers on the 10-member committee, including Carter and Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson.

Carter and two Democrats said they were presented a draft advisory opinion with Carter and one of the Democrats saying they were asked to sign it. After Carter's statement that it appeared to be an effort to "rig" the ethics review process, Casada struck back and called Carter's charges "nothing more than a deliberate attempt to mislead and an absolute disgrace from someone that should know better."

That's the hot cauldron Republicans will ease into during their closed caucus meeting this afternoon.

"I think that's up to the caucus to what direction they'd like to take or what actions they'd like to put forward," House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland said in a Sunday interview, adding, "I'm sure they have had an opportunity to reflect on this situation and will be able to make some determinations on how we go forward as a caucus."

GOP Caucus bylaws make no provision for a "no confidence" vote but it could still come up with some thinking it would only require a majority of members present and voting.

But one critic privately observed that it's unclear what a no confidence vote would actually mean.

Yet another controversy for Casada includes allegations that Cothren deliberately sought to frame a black protester on charges he violated a no-contact order condition for bail. That came following the activist's previous arrest for assaulting the speaker this year.

Cothren forwarded the email from activist Justin Jones to the Davidson County District Attorney's office as proof Jones violated the no-contact order. But Jones' email was actually sent several days prior to his arrest on assault charges.

The head of the legislative information systems says the problem was the email was among thousands that had been caught in the system's spam filter, making it appear to Cothren that it came after Jones' do-not-contact order came down.

Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, was among legislative Black Caucus members who last week called on Casada to resign and formally asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Jones email.

"If we look at the revelations, the evidence that's come forward so far, that in my view is enough to disqualify him," Hakeem said. "Then, then if you add into that what Rep. Carter went through with the Ethics Committee. I don't know what else has to happen for it to be clear that in my view he's breached the trust of if not all but a number of people in the legislature and I think the state of Tennessee."

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

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