Tennesseans should send a heartfelt thank you to Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who made it crystal clear Monday night that our state would no longer brook the poisonous behavior of House Speaker Glen Casada.
Shortly after the House Republican Caucus cast a surprising 45-24 no-confidence vote for Casada's continued leadership, Lee weighed in with another body slam for the speaker of four and a half months. Casada's misdirection, misogynistic and racist attitudes, along with an increasingly apparent overarching abuse of power, began to unravel after his top aide — accused of all the same things, plus drug use in the state Capitol — resigned in early May.
"Today House Republicans sent a clear message, and I'm prepared to call a special session if the Speaker doesn't resign," Lee said in a statement.
About 12 hours later, Casada announced he will do just that.
"When I return to town on June 3, I will meet with Caucus leadership to determine the best date for me to resign as Speaker," Casada said.
Again, Lee weighed in: "Speaker Casada has made the right decision, and I look forward to working with the legislature to get back to conducting the people's business and focusing on the issues that matter most to our state," the governor tweeted later Tuesday morning.
Casada and his former chief of staff Cade Cothren put Tennessee in the headlines of several national newspapers for their lewd texts and dirty politics — including alleged email tampering and electronic eavesdropping, and using taxpayer money to pay an aide to write social media attack ads against women who accused another representative — and Casada supporter — of assaulting them when they were teens.
"Cocaine, racy texts and a potentially fraudulent email: A week of chaos roils one statehouse," read the top of a May 9 Washington Post story.
The email was a "reproduction" with a changed date that Cothren reportedly sent to the Nashville District Attorney's office to seek the arrest of a black Vanderbilt University divinity student and civil rights activist in Nashville who had led a Feb. 28 protest over the Capitol statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and early member of the Ku Klux Klan. Days later, prosecutors sought to revoke the activist's bail, saying he had violated the terms that he avoid contact with Casada. Prosecutors claimed the activist had emailed Casada the next day. The activist — and his original email — said he hadn't emailed the lawmaker since before the protest.
Then there were the disclosures of Cothren's racist and sexist text messages — some with Casada himself. Casada responded jokingly or approvingly to three sexually oriented texts from aide Cade Cothren, who boasted among other things about having sex with a woman in a restaurant restroom. Cothren also bragged of cocaine use inside the Capitol in 2015 and 2016, according to Nashville television station News Channel 5.
Finally, after Cothren resigned, the Tennessean revealed reported wholesale electronic eavesdropping in Capitol offices — again overseen by Casada's aide. The Tennessean alleged that Casada "allowed his now-former chief of staff to eavesdrop on committee rooms." The paper said some lawmakers said they were having their offices checked for recording devices. Meanwhile, a "white noise" system in the ceilings of the hallways inside and outside Casada's office diminished the potential for recording or overhearing conversations with the speaker.
Then when an ethics panel began looking at these concerns, one of the panelists — our own Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah — accused Casada of trying to "rig and predetermine" the ethics review by submitting to the panel "an exonerating advisory opinion for which no ethics committee member had input." The document was presented with signature lines on which all 10 Ethics Committee members were told to sign. Signal Mountain Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, also on the ethics panel, had called for Casada to step down more than a week ago. Now Carter wants him ousted from the General Assembly — not just the speaker's post.
We aren't surprised when we learn things like this about Washington politics. But this is Tennessee.
According to House rules, Knoxville's Bill Dunn, who now serves as speaker pro tem, would preside over the House until an election can be held for a new speaker.
Dunn has already made his first pledge: "What I need to do is look to see how we get back to calmness and order. I think I can bring a level of boredom to the position."
That would be nice.
Now, if only our Washington Republicans would take note and handle our president with the same strong discipline.