This story was updated Nov. 21, 2018, at 11:58 a.m. with more information.
NASHVILLE — Republicans on Tuesday nominated state Rep. Glen Casada as their candidate for the Tennessee House's top post, virtually ensuring the Franklin representative will become the next speaker in January, given the GOP's 73-member super majority in the 99-person chamber.
The 59-year-old Casada, who has been serving as Republican majority leader, defeated GOP rivals Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson of Clarksville and Deputy Republican Leader David Hawk of Greenville in the speaker's contest.
The post has been held the last eight years by Republican Beth Harwell, who ran unsuccessfully for governor this year. In 2010, Harwell defeated Casada in the GOP Caucus for the speaker nomination, and she would hold on to the seat against all subsequent Republican challengers.
Republicans voted by secret ballot. But in a departure from recent elections, totals for the winner were announced. Casada got 47 votes. He needed at least 37 to win.
Given that Democrats will have just 26 members in the 99-member chamber, Casada is a shoo-in to become speaker. Any Republican who votes for a Democrat on the floor would be run out of the party under a state GOP bylaw enacted in 2009 after Republican Rep. Kent Williams joined with 49 Democrats to make himself speaker.
Republican Gov.-elect Bill Lee quickly congratulated Casada, a representative for pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck, who was first elected to the General Assembly in 2001.
"Congratulations @GlenCasada," Lee stated on Twitter. "I'm looking forward to working with you in the coming session."
As Casada made his pitch earlier to Republican colleagues, he called for several major changes in how the House conducts its business.
Among them was a pledge to ensure a greater role for the lower chamber in formulating the state's annual spending plan.
"It's time for the House to be involved in forming that budget," Casada said of the spending plan, which is put together by the governor and submitted to the General Assembly.
Lawmakers traditionally make some changes to what governors propose, but it usually amounts to tinkering around the edges. Some House Republicans have griped for years that their Senate GOP counterparts often appear to get the upper hand in budget negotiations.
Casada also said he wants to "streamline" the House committee system, a common complaint among members. And he pledged to increase the number of subcommittees.
Eyeing the other chamber, led by Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, Casada said "it is time for the House to lead."
McNally later offered his congratulations to Casada, stating in a news release that "we will work together with Governor-elect Lee to keep Tennessee the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family."
As majority leader, Casada involved himself in a number of GOP primary races in August, proving a difference maker in various contested races. And a number of the 20 GOP freshmen he helped in primaries, general elections or both undoubtedly contributed to his victory on the first ballot.
He pledged to continue helping incumbents.
Freshman Rep. Robin Smith, R-Chattanooga, noted she had worked with Casada in the past while she was Tennessee Republican Party chairman and watched as the leader helped build the GOP's House ranks to its current super majority.
"Without question, he's guarding that and I think he's done a great job," said Smith, who had declared her public support for Casada earlier this month. "And clearly by the race being determined by the first ballot, I think it shows a high level of confidence in him."
But Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini said that Casada's nomination "shows us exactly who the Republican Party is in Tennessee.
"They just elected a man to the most powerful position in the state house who said he would 'protect Republican incumbents even when it might not be popular' following a news story in which incumbent Republican legislator David Byrd admitted to sexually harassing three high school girls," Mancini charged in a statement.
Mancini also said that Casada previously "shut down Medicaid expansion in secret, closed-door meetings" and that House Republicans have "elected a man who tried to stop the city of Memphis from removing Confederate statues — and who already has plans to stop the city of Nashville" from implementing a community police oversight board recently approved by voters.
In other House Republican leadership contests Tuesday:
- Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville was elected House speaker pro tempore.
- Rep. William Lamberth of Cottontown was elected majority leader.
- Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville was elected GOP Caucus chairman.
- Rep. Ron Gant of Rossville was elected assistant majority leader.
- Rep. Rick Tillis of Lewisburg was elected Republican whip.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.