Updated at 5:59 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22, 2019, with more information.
NASHVILLE — Republican Rep. Mike Carter announced Wednesday he is running for the Tennessee House speaker post, telling GOP Caucus members in a letter that "if we are to restore public trust, a clean break is imperative" from embattled Speaker Glen Casada.
"I am not asking you to serve me," the Ooltewah attorney said in his letter to the 73-member GOP Caucus. "I am asking for the high honor to serve you and the state of Tennessee."
But Hamilton County could wind up with not one but two candidates in the GOP contest.
Rep. Robin Smith of Hixson told the Times Free Press Wednesday evening that six Republican members called "to talk to me about seriously running. I've had several business folks call me and ask I consider running because of the understanding I have about business, project management and things like that."
Mike Carter letterView
"At this point, I have not announced. I am not making any calls, but I am watching," said Smith, a former Tennessee Republican Party chairwomen who does political and business consulting.
On Monday, the caucus resoundingly approved a no-confidence motion on Casada, who became speaker earlier this year and who has been embroiled in a number of controversies, including a leaked, lewd email exchange with a top aide about women. And on Tuesday, under pressure from the caucus and Republican Gov. Bill Lee, he announced he would resign — but not until he returns from vacation June 3.
In his letter, Carter said: "With the atmosphere we're facing we must not only live in a glass bubble, we must, with the consent of the Caucus, develop new rules and procedures to prove that integrity and trust has returned to the House of Representatives.
"Tennessee: First in integrity," Carter wrote.
Earlier Wednesday, Casada's appointed deputy speaker, Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, announced he was seeking the nomination.
In an apparent effort to smooth over any concerns from Casada supporters, Carter — a former Hamilton County judge — pledged that no titles or positions now held would be removed.
"Considering what we have been through and realizing that conservative leadership is essential to the progress of Tennessee, we must balance every appearance against the effect on the re-election of our members."
Moreover, Carter pledged: "You will be able to walk the halls and talk in your office without fear of eavesdropping," alluding to allegations that Casada had hired two political operatives to serve as "hall monitors" and other fears by some Republican and Democratic lawmakers that their offices might have been bugged. "Members will not be intimidated, and under no circumstance shall a member be threatened with a primary opponent because of any vote taken. They should at all times vote their conscience and district."
Casada, 59, has made state news for more than two weeks in the wake of news reports that he and his then-top aide, Cade Cothren, had traded lewd texts about women.
The speaker initially said the texts were faked, then acknowledged they were genuine but simply "locker-room talk." He later apologized, saying they had occurred three years ago at a "bad" time in his life. In three texts, Casada jokingly or encouragingly replied to three of Cothren's texts boasting about his sexual exploits.
Casada said he didn't pay attention to most of the texts, which included Cothren's boasts of having used cocaine in a legislative office and a racist texts.
The speaker and Cothren also have come under fire for allegedly seeking to frame a civil rights protester for violating a judge's no-contact order with the speaker. Cothren has denied wrongdoing and said officials mistakenly thought an email from activist Justin Jones came after the order when it had not. It's under investigation by a special prosecutor. Legislative Black Caucus members have called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.
Carter, meanwhile, charged last week that he believed Casada sought to "rig and predetermine" a draft ethics advisory report that the speaker had requested regarding his dealings with Cothren. The speaker vehemently denied it. Smith, also on the panel, said she saw nothing like that.
House Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who would temporarily become acting speaker when Casada steps down, told reporters earlier Wednesday that he is getting calls about running and is "doing my due diligence on it, and probably by this weekend I'll have a definitive answer."
Asked if he was interested, Rep. Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, a former GOP Caucus chairman, said, "I'm looking for the best direction for the caucus to heal." He added that "whether I want to do that or not, I think our colleagues will decide that. I know my wife and I are praying about it."
Others seen as considering bids include current Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville and Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station. Another possibility is former Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson of Clarksville.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.