NASHVILLE -- A state-based gun rights group today called on Tennessee representatives to vote to remove Republican House Speaker Glen Casada from his post in the wake of a text messaging scandal and other issues that have thrust the first-term speaker into a political crisis.
John Harris, executive director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, cited the disclosure of the speaker's participation in "lewd texts" with a former top aide as well as what he called an ensuing "attempted coverup," making "false" statements to news organizations and other issues.
Noting the House speaker post is the third most powerful in Tennessee government, Harris said in a statement that "it would be an unquestioned breach of the public's interest and trust to have a person in that office who is now proven to be willfully false in his dealings with news reporters and in responding to matters of significant public interest."
Since the speaker is elected by House members, Harris said, "it is ultimately the duty of all House members under their oaths of office and as public stewards to make sure that their selected leader is a person of unquestioned truthfulness, integrity and character."
Harris said Casada "by his conduct and willful dishonesty in a matter of public interest, has unquestionably shown to the other members and the public that he is unqualified to serve in of the highest offices of public trust in the State."
Hoping to stave off the growing furor where some Republicans are already openly calling on him to resign the speakership, Casada on Wednesday held a telephone conference call with members of the House GOP in which he apologized and vowed to implement changes.
In a subsequent statement, Casada said "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."
He called it "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."
Harris charged Casada "attempted to cover up his involvement in the lewd text messaging and misconduct scandal, some of which involved the use of illegal drugs by the Chief of Staff while in government offices."
Casada initially questioned the authenticity of the text messages involving himself, aide Cade Cothren and an unidentified man between 2014 and 2016. Cothren became Casada's chief of staff in January when the Williamson County Republican was elected House speaker.
Television station WTVF in Nashville, which broke the initial stories over some of the texts, reported Wednesday that Casada knew the texts were authentic because he called a former associate the night before the first story was posted online and accused him of being the source of the racist text messages sent by Cothren.
Other texts also showed Cothren boasting about his use of illegal drugs, including use of cocaine in a government building, as well as engaging in vulgar exchanges about women, including with Casada himself.
WTVF reported the phone call with the former associate was recorded and the audio was provided to a reporter.
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.
"Speaker Casada, by his conduct and willful dishonesty in a matter of public interest, has unquestionably shown to the other members and the public that he is unqualified to serve in of the highest offices of public trust in the State."
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.