NASHVILLE — Tennessee House Republicans picked Rep. Jeremy Faison as their new caucus chairman Thursday, with the Cosby lawmaker emerging as the winner on the third ballot of a four-person contest that included Rep. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain.
Hazlewood fell in the second round, garnering 20 votes to Faison's 27 and 24 votes for Rep. Michael Curcio of Dickson. Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station was the first to go after getting nine votes in first-round balloting among the 71 GOP caucus members present.
Speaking afterward, Hazlewood said she doesn't regret having run.
"We're very fortunate because we have four good candidates, which somebody mentioned in a speech that any one of us would have done a good job. I'm just ready to get behind [the winner]," she said.
Faison replaces Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville. On Friday, Sexton is expected to be elected the new House speaker as members seek to replace former Speaker Glen Casada, a Franklin Republican. Casada resigned his leadership post Aug. 2 under pressure after a series of scandals.
In her earlier speech to the caucus, Hazlewood noted that "this position isn't all about fundraising, but funding does underpin all that we need to do for 2020."
A retired executive and businesswoman, Hazlewood touted her abilities as a fundraiser, one of the areas the caucus chair is involved in, noting, "I've literally raised millions of dollars for the United Way and the Chamber" campaigns.
"We've had some challenges," Hazlewood said. But she said the GOP's agenda has been highly successful and that "our job is to remind Tennesseans who we are and how we've made life better."
Faison told colleagues "we have an incredible team" and patted fellow House Republicans collectively on the back for having accomplished "some of the most amazing things."
He vowed to run GOP Caucus meetings "very fairly" and establish a "decorum where general consensus can be found" while respecting minority views. Moreover, Faison said, he will work "to make sure you're not carrying the water for the governor, carrying water for the speaker but for the people you represent."
That was an allusion to Casada's having driven caucus members hard on a variety of issues, especially Republican Gov. Bill Lee's school voucher plan.
Another Faison pitch: While caucus funds can't be used to fund incumbent lawmakers in GOP primaries, he vowed to personally raise money from big donors and various special interests to defend them when needed.
As he spoke to caucus members, Jerry Sexton, who is not related to presumed incoming speaker Cameron Sexton, raised a few eyebrows by saying: "Any of these guys can do a great job and even the gal [Hazlewood]." He quickly added: "I just stepped in it, didn't I?"
Neither Faison nor Hazlewood were seen as great allies of Casada. Both were among the first to say he needed to step down. Jerry Sexton had pushed for the May caucus meeting that resulted in a no confidence vote. Curcio was viewed as a Casada ally.
During the session, Casada pushed reluctant fellow Republicans to move Lee's voucher bill through committees, with some Republicans charging that he threatened to defeat them in primaries if they did not play ball — allegations which the speaker has adamantly denied. But the bill got caught up in a 49-49 tie on the House floor. The tie was broken when a Knoxville Republican switched his no to yes, giving it the required 50th vote to pass into law.
Soon after, the first-term speaker's downfall began when sexually explicit and racist text exchanges he had three years earlier with a top aide were publicly leaked, with other controversies following.
Casada has not resigned his House seat and participated in Thursday's GOP Caucus elections.
The faction-riven GOP Caucus' meeting went into the evening with members debating behind closed doors an anonymous Twitter account that popped up during this year's legislative session that attacked some GOP members, staff and political consultants.
The Tennessean quoted Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, on Thursday saying he planned to raise the issue and that Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisburg, the majority whip, had acknowledged some involvement in the now-deleted account.
Holt also told the newspaper he would like to see Tillis stripped of his caucus leadership post. Freshman Rep. Mark Hall, R-Cleveland, had told caucus members he was interested in becoming whip.
During the session, there were charges that someone came into Tillis' office and urinated in one of his office chairs.
Asked about that by the Times Free Press back in May, Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley said in an email that she "arranged to have the damaged chair removed and replaced," but didn't respond to the question of whether the fluid was urine.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.