House Democratic Caucus chairman says Speaker Casada's 'cronies' hope to retain power with special session

House Democratic Caucus chairman says Speaker Casada's 'cronies' hope to retain power with special session

June 12th, 2019 by Andy Sher in Breaking News

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.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

Updated at 5:03 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, with more information.

NASHVILLE — A top Tennessee House Democrat says he won't go along with GOP leaders' efforts to call a special session to replace Republican Speaker Glen Casada, charging it's a "transparent scheme" by Casada's "cronies" to hold onto power.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart, of Nashville, said the GOP-led chamber should instead follow House succession procedures. Casada, he said, can just resign now with Republican Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn of Knoxville immediately becoming speaker.

Casada controversies

He said Casada's plan to resign Aug. 2 "only puts him in a position to meddle in schemes, to perhaps try to retain power indirectly."

Stewart also said, "I know there are some Republicans who are in leadership who are urging a special session as a pretty transparent scheme to hold onto power."

He added that it's "obvious that Casada should resign and it's obvious that a special session of the sort that Casada's cronies are calling for serves no purpose other than to waste taxpayers' money and to serve their narrow interests."

A one-day special session would cost about $41,000 to bring both the House and Senate back to the state Capitol and pay for their expenses and operational costs.

Engulfed by controversies over racist and sexually explicit text messages and other problems, Casada was slapped by fellow Republicans with a 45-24 vote of no confidence on May 21.

The speaker initially said he hoped to work to regain GOP colleagues' trust. But he agreed to step down after Republican Gov. Bill Lee threatened to call lawmakers into special session to remove him if Casada did not agree to step down.

Casada did, but it was only last week that he finally set a date — Aug. 2 — to resign the speakership. He also urged Lee to call lawmakers into special session to replace him on that date. But a number of lawmakers want him to leave earlier and Majority Leader William Lamberth, a Portland Republican, who would like a special session in June, is asking Republicans what their appetite for that is.

It would take 66 votes in the 99-member chamber to call the House into a special session and the Senate would have to agree. But the governor himself could call one.

Lee said Monday in response to reporters' questions that he is talking to leaders and members "to gauge their temperature on this and to know where they want to go" and "help us make a decision about when or if to call a special session."

Six Republicans, including Rep. Mike Carter, of Ooltewah, and Rep. Robin Smith, of Hixson, have either announced bids to replace Casada or are taking a hard look at doing so.

Lamberth has been querying GOP lawmakers, who represent 73 of the chamber's 99 members, about a June special session to replace Casada.

Lamberth said in a recent interview that Casada's resignation itself "is not contingent on a special session.

"That is an absolute resignation day, I mean, he is resigning on Aug. 2," Lamberth said. "So with that information I think our members are taking some time to digest that, but they are also spending most of their time in their districts, jobs, families, vacation."

In the waning days of the session, a series of leaked text messages Casada had exchanged with a top aide, Cade Cothren, three years ago surfaced. Casada responded approvingly or jokingly to three sexually explicit texts.

But other issues came to the forefront. Carter, a member of the House Ethics Committee, charged that Casada was trying to whitewash an advisory ethics committee opinion the speaker sought regarding his actions involving Cothren, a charge Casada denied.

Besides Carter and Smith, other Republicans interested in succeeding Casada are Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, a Casada appointee; former Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson of Clarksville; current GOP Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville; and former GOP Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams of Cookeville.

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