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In this 2012 AP file photo, Republican Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin, center, speaks with colleagues on the House floor in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)
some text Jonathan Mason
some text Esther Helton, 56, is seeking District 30 GOP primary nomination

NASHVILLE — Republican Jonathan Mason is coming under attack in the state House District 30 GOP primary race as being in the "Pocket of Big Insurance Companies."

But the direct-mail assault that's been hitting mail boxes in Chattanooga, East Ridge and East Brainerd isn't coming from his GOP rival Esther Helton in their Aug. 2 primary race. Or even Joda Thongnopnua, the expected Democratic nominee.

Instead, the circular slam is coming from a leadership political action committee, CAS PAC, that belongs to Republican state House Republican Majority Leader Glen Casada of Franklin, Tennessee.

Casada is backing Helton in the contest to replace state Rep. Marc Gravitt, R-East Ridge, who is seeking to become Hamilton County's next register of deeds. It's part of a bold move by Casada to back specific candidates in open seats as he seeks to become the Tennessee House's next speaker.

Mason works for Chattanooga-based Unum, the nation's top disability insurer, which also offers other insurance coverage including accident, critical illness and life. While not mentioning Unum, the mailer charges Mason is "Literally In The Pocket of Big Insurance Companies. His Interests Are Their Interests - Not Yours!"

Mason blasted right back on Thursday in a statement to the Times Free Press in which he cited his own endorsement from the Tennessee Right to Life's PAC and charged Helton "has allowed a Nashville politician's Political Action Committee to launch attacks at my character and integrity.

"Mr. Casada, who runs CAS-PAC, has spoken at multiple events for my opponent and spent thousands of dollars on her behalf," said Mason, who asked "Why is Glenn Casada's 'Keep Tennessee Conservative' PAC so invested in Esther Helton, a two-time Obama voter from District 30? He is attempting to not only buy the 30th district, but districts around the state."

Mason said "our voters can see right through these attacks and do not want a representative who is bought and paid for like Ms. Helton."

Moreover, Mason said, "I am accountable to the voters of District 30, and their voice, not one man from Nashville."

As majority leader, Casada is the second most powerful leader in the House after Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville. But with Harwell running for governor, Casada is looking to move into the top post. Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, is actively exploring a bid and Rep. David Hawk, R-Greenville, the assistant majority leader, is eyeing running as well.

Back in June, Casada told the Times Free Press that as the former House GOP Caucus chairman and as leader, he is interested in advancing Republicans, who already enjoy a 75-member-strong super majority in the 99-member chamber, in races across the state.

He said his PAC is involved in defending incumbent Republicans in GOP primaries, as well as the general election, but was also involved in GOP primaries because he's interested in "getting good people elected to the open seats and making sure all of the incumbents come back."

Still, he acknowledged, "I do hope it helps [his speaker bid], because I'm interested in running for speaker. But first things first," meaning his focus is on electing more Republicans.

Immediate efforts to reach Casada, whose PAC has also contributed $500 directly to Helton's campaign, were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Mason said what he finds "even more surprising is the correlation between the CAS-PAC and my opponents' message. They use the same photos and are in sync with each other's timing. It does not take a politico to see that they are collaborating behind the scenes.

"If I were Ms. Helton, I would give the money CAS-PAC has contributed back and call for an end to his attack mail in the 30th District," he added.

Casada has already drawn fire after jumping into another open and contested Republican seat, the House District 73 race in Jackson. Casada's PAC-funded "Keep Tennessee Conservative" Facebook page blasted Madison County Commissioner Jay Bush as a "tax & spend liberal Anti-Trumper" in his GOP primary contest with Chris Todd.

The Jackson Sun reported this week that CAS PAC had sent out mailers slamming Bush as a "fake Republican." The mailers tell voters to say "No way Jay."

Bush, who originally hails from Clarksville, told the Sun that he is friends with Johnson, who has contributed to his campaign.

"Curtis is reported to be interested in the Speaker position, and my guess is Casada thinks I'd vote for Curtis if I'm elected," Bush told the Sun.

Early voting in state and federal primaries began July 13 and continue through July 28 in the Aug. 2 election, where there are also a number of county general election contests.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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