NASHVILLE — As she weighs running for the Tennessee House Republican Caucus nomination to replace current Speaker Glen Casada, who announced he would resign after a GOP no-confidence vote last month, Rep. Robin Smith says an important part of any path to victory would be her fellow freshmen who form nearly a third of the caucus.
"We're the ones bringing ethics reform to the table when others have not," the Hixson Republican said Monday. "I think there's an opportunity for us to stick together as a class. But I'm not going to make that presumption, I'm not going to speak on their behalf."
There's an "opportunity" for her there, Smith said, but she added, "I'm not going to take anyone's vote for granted regardless of their tenure."
Casada, 59, announced May 21 he would step down after the no-confidence vote spurred by a scandal over sexually explicit text messages in a chain of messages involving Casada, his former top aide and a third, unidentified man said to be a "disgrunted" political consultant.
Other issues, including his management style, also created problem for Casada, a former GOP Caucus chairman and majority leader who only became speaker in January.
Two Republicans already have announced bids to replace him — Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, who became one of the first Republicans to call on Casada to step down, and Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, who was named to his post by Casada.
A former Tennessee Republican Party chairwoman who does political and business consulting, Smith got to know many members of the huge 20-member GOP freshmen class — the caucus has 73 members — and a number of other Republicans after serving as the Republican Caucus' consultant during a good part of the 2018 campaign cycle.
"I've helped others get elected," said Smith, also a nurse, noting she was also in charge of some incumbent Republicans' races in addition to the freshman races.
"And so I do have relationships with others over the span of time. I think that clearly I have shown I can work with effective teams whether it's cardiac and transplant medicine, project management or around the state Republican Party."
She said, "I'd be honored to say it, our freshman class has proven itself to be very mature, very thoughtful and a very good freshman class. We have freshmen who have brought very good pieces of legislation."
Smith was paid $37,000 in 2018 for her House Republican Caucus work that involved the general election contests, according to Tennessee Election Registry filings. At the time, Casada was the majority leader.
But Smith noted it was a competitive selection process. And Smith pointed out that in 2016 she lost her effort to win the caucus' general consultant post to Chip Saltsman in a similar competitive process. Casada was caucus chairman at the time.
A former state party chairman himself, Saltsman managed now-U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann's 2010 GOP primary victory over Smith in a bitter 3rd Congressional Distict slugfest in which Smith and a top aide were attacked, spurring a lawsuit by the aide.
At the May 21 GOP Caucus closed-door meeting, Smith had argued against the no-confidence vote motion, favoring instead a formal censure motion. She said she won't say how she ultimately voted in the secret ballot — and the lawmaker says she's aware of talk in some GOP circles that "supposedly he's in my 'pocket' and I'm in his. I'm not in anyone's pocket."
She said that in her remarks to the caucus, "I told members early on and I told our speaker that he either needed to act aggressively and disprove all these things or resign."
While Smith didn't win the GOP Caucus' 2016 contract, she did do consulting for the Tennessee Republican Party's election effort through the state party's Tennessee Legislative Campaign Committee, for which she was paid $28,092, according to registry records.
Records also show Smith has been paid a total of $261,811 since 2012 by various candidates, including $51,799 in the 2016 and 2018 cycles by Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, who had been critical of Casada.
Following the May 21, 45-24 no-confidence vote, Casada had stated he would seek to regain members' trust until Republican Gov. Bill Lee weighed in, saying he was prepared to call lawmakers into a special session if the speaker didn't resign the post.
After taking a brief, previously planned European vacation, Casada is back and Republican leaders are working on a meeting with him to lay out a timeline departure.
"[C]onversations have begun between Speaker Casada and House leadership and they will continue throughout the early part of this week," said Doug Kuffner, the GOP Caucus spokesman, in a text. "These conversations will likely be a combination of in-person meetings, as well as phone conversations.
"A timeline [for resignation] is certainly part of the conversation," Kuffner said in response to a question.
Besides Carter and Hill, others looking at replacing Casada include Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn of Knoxville, current GOP Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville, former Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson of Clarksville and former GOP Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams of Cookeville.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.
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