FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee says he knows nothing about allegations then-Republican House Speaker Glen Casada suggested to a Democratic lawmaker he could be promoted to a top Tennessee National Guard post by switching his no vote to yes on the governor's controversial school voucher bill.
"I don't know anything about that," Lee, a Republican, told reporters Thursday. The governor said in response to another question that "I was not" a part of any such discussions.
WTVF reported last month that Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, already a National Guard colonel, confirmed to the Nashville station that Casada suggested to him he could get promoted to general if he voted for the bill. Windle did not change his no vote.
At the time, April 23, the bill was deadlocked 49-49 on the House floor, sending Casada and aides desperately scrambling for more than 40 minutes to find the 50th vote required to pass any bill on the floor.
The measure eventually passed 50-49 when a Knoxville Republican switched his vote.
Casada has vehemently denied he ever "promised" Windle a National Guard promotion, noting only a governor can make such a promotion.
Windle in late July issued a statement to WTVF in which he said, "I voted no on the bill as a matter of principle and that vote decision did not change." He went on to note the people he represents are "fiercely independent, and their vote is not for sale."
A former state prosecutor, Windle also noted he had "sought the guidance of Tennessee ethics authorities and followed their recommendations."
Lee also said Thursday in response to reporters' questions that he has asked his top aides whether they had been involved in any offers of a position to Windle. They have told him they had not been, he said.
The governor confirmed he spoke twice to Windle, among other lawmakers, by phone that day in an effort to break the deadlock. Asked what he was saying to Windle, Lee replied, it was "encouragement for him to consider passing that legislation. I encouraged a lot of legislators that day and the days before I met with dozens of them over the period of time and talked to them on that day."
Asked whether "encouragement" involved promises or help for lawmakers with specific home-district projects, the governor said "it means that this is important to me because the education of our children is important. And that I believe wholeheartedly this legislation would give kids, particularly low-income kids in failing school districts, an opportunity for a better education."
As passed into law, the much-amended legislation that originally included five counties, including Hamilton, now applies to just Metro Nashville and Shelby County. It would provide parents with taxpayer money to pay for a range of educational costs and services, including private school tuition and fees as well as private tutoring.
Lee is working to have the program ready to start in the 2020-2021 school year.
Casada, meanwhile, has officially resigned his speaker position, effective Friday. That came after a string of controversies for the first-term speaker that ignited when sexually explicit and racist texts exchanged with a then-top aide three years ago were leaked to Nashville news organizations.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.
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