Updated at 9:11 p.m. on Thursday, May 9, 2019, with more information and comments from Hazlewood.
NASHVILLE — In one of multiple blows Thursday to Tennessee Republican House Speaker Glen Casada's efforts to put a text messaging scandal behind him, state Rep. Patsy Hazlewood said "it would be best" if Casada steps down, while Rep. Mike Carter called it "difficult" for the embattled speaker "to lead effectively" going forward.
Calling the situation "so distressing," Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, said legislators have "done so many good things, I feel, this year" and pointed to passage of "good, conservative legislation," a state budget that "really does a lot of positive things," tax cuts and the largest investment ever in public education.
"We've really done some really great things, and this whole scandal is just eclipsing that," Hazlewood said.
Carter, R-Ooltewah, meanwhile, said a "full and thorough investigation" is necessary.
"The racism and vulgarity on display in the text messages between then-Rep. Casada and Cade Cothren are shocking and regrettable," Carter said in a statement referring to now-Speaker Casada and his former chief of staff Cade Cothren, who quit earlier this week amid the uproar.
"It's a black eye that the great state of Tennessee doesn't deserve and one that won't soon heal," Carter said.
But Carter also noted that "the former judge in me says don't make snap decisions before all the facts are known. I want a full and thorough investigation of all the circumstances surrounding sexual harassment claims by interns/staff members and the email sent to the DA."
The latter is a reference to questions raised by a Nashville television station that Casada's office may have tried to frame a young activist who had challenged Casada and GOP lawmakers this year.
It's the latest in a tumultuous two weeks for the House speaker, elected to the chamber's most powerful position in January by the GOP super majority.
Scrambling to shore up support, the powerful speaker from Franklin, Tennessee, held a conference call Wednesday with majority Republicans in which he apologized, accepted responsibility for some of the explicit sexual tests he responded to from then-aide Cothren and vowed to make changes.
"I take complete ownership over the text messages with inappropriate comments about women that I exchanged with my former Chief of Staff and another individual several years ago," Casada said in a statement earlier in the week. "It's embarrassing and humbling to have it displayed in this manner. I apologize and hope that my friends, family, colleagues, and constituents find a way to forgive me for it because it is not the person I am and it hasn't been the way I have conducted myself as Speaker."
Nashville's WTVF and The Tennessean have published sexual and racist texts from Cothren, many of which were sent as group messages that included Casada, who responded positively to at least two sexually oriented texts, including one in which Cothren told Casada he had just had sexual intercourse with a woman in a restaurant restroom.
Casada asked Cothren, "R u a minute man?" Cothren responded by saying, "Yes, I take after you. Like Father, like son."
Cothren, 32, resigned Monday after The Tennessean reported on his sexually oriented texts that included discussion of his efforts to have sexual encounters with a legislative intern and a lobbyist. In other texts, Cothren boasted of snorting cocaine in a legislative office prior to Casada becoming speaker.
Casada was not included in all the texts, which were from 2014, 2015 and 2016. The speaker's case has been that Cothren later straightened up and that he himself had not seen a number of the messages.
The texts also included a third man and a number of them were solely between Cothren and the unidentified man, who Casada supporters identified as a "disgruntled" political operative.
Meanwhile, another uproar has emerged over Nashville activist Justin Jones, who was arrested in February on assault charges after throwing a cup of coffee at Casada in a state Capitol elevator.
When he was released on bond, he was told he couldn't have contact with Casada. Cothren sent Davidson County District Attorney General Glenn Funk an email from Jones saying it showed he violated the no-contact conditions of his bond.
But the email date has been called into question, indicating the central email was sent before the sending of an order to steer clear of Casada. Legislative information services officials say the email had been held up for several days in a spam filter but was later found among a batch of emails forwarded to Cothren.
Amid allegations of witness tampering, Funk has called in a special prosecutor to handle the case.
In his statement, Carter said that although he "personally" likes Casada and is proud of the legislative accomplishments the House has achieved under his leadership, "no legislative or policy agenda is worth the reputation and integrity of the House."
Carter carries great weight among some GOP Caucus members, who affectionately refer to him as "Judge Carter."
Hazlewood said of Casada that "I really think for the good of our party, but more importantly for the good of the House and the good of the state, I think that it would be best if he would step down. That's not my decision to make."
Hazlewood said she also wants to "make perfectly clear" that "behavior [in text messages] is not indicative of the majority of my colleagues up there. And really, I think that's one of the things that hurts my heart is to think that people would see that and think that is a reflection of or depiction of how other people act [at the capitol]."
In yet another blow to Casada, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Senate Republican speaker, said Thursday that if Casada were a senator, he would ask him to resign, according to a published report.
"Yeah, I think I would," McNally told The Tennessean. "If it were me that did some of those things, I'd probably be packing my bags for Oak Ridge."
McNally made the comments as Casada struggles to tamp down the ongoing controversies.
McNally also expressed concerns about a report in The Tennessean that Casada had installed sound-dampening "white noise" devices in his office suite.
As a younger legislator in the 1980s, McNally cooperated with the FBI and secretly wore a wire to expose bribery efforts on a horse-racing bill, as well as efforts by professional gamblers to retain their near-monopolistic control over what was supposed to be the charity bingo industry.
Yet another controversy erupted after The Tennessean reported in the same article that Cothren said his video monitors could zero in on House committee rooms not only when committee hearings are being held — a customary practice — but at any other time as well.
Outraged Democrats said it would allow the speaker's office to monitor sensitive strategy meetings of the Democratic Caucus hearings. They called on the U.S. attorney in Middle Tennessee to investigate.
In The Tennessean article, Cothren denied making such a claim and on Wednesday, Casada's staff members said their only access to the committee room video and sound was during hearings.
In yet another development on Thursday, Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, said he and others were putting together a petition to call the Republican Caucus into session to weigh what to do.
Meanwhile, the executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, John Harris, called on House Republicans to remove Casada.
Harris said state representatives "have an affirmative and fiduciary duty to the people of Tennessee to protect the office of Speaker from being held by people who lack the integrity, truthfulness or trust that must be unquestionably present to serve in that office."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.