NASHVILLE — Four Tennessee House Republicans, including a Signal Mountain lawmaker, are set to square off Thursday in an election to become the new "face" of the House GOP Caucus.
A relatively late entrant into the contest, Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain is vying with Reps. Michael Curcio of Dickson, Jeremy Faison of Cosby and Jerry Sexton of Bean Station to become the new GOP caucus chair.
It comes with current chair Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville expected to be elected House speaker Friday on the floor, replacing Republican Glen Casada, who resigned the chamber's top post under pressure following a series of political blowups and a majority of his own caucus saying they no longer had confidence in his ability to lead the chamber.
The GOP Caucus chair post is "extremely important" to Republicans, said House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland.
"To a large part, that's the face of your caucus, for a lot of public outreach, for a lot of planning in election years, for a lot of coordinating between caucus members and, yes, it does assist with fundraising," Lamberth said.
While campaign fundraising under caucus bylaws falls to the majority leader, "it's always been a team effort," Lamberth said. "The caucus chair really is kind of the person who is the glue that holds your caucus together by coordinating everything that the caucus does" in areas ranging from meetings of GOP lawmakers, positions on bills, fund raising and social events.
Three of the lawmakers seeking to succeed Cameron Sexton as caucus chair — Faison, Hazlewood and Jerry Sexton, who is no relation to Cameron Sexton — became sharp Casada critics following revelations of the then-speaker's sexually explicit and racially charged tweets with a top aide.
After the uproar erupted, Faison and Hazlewood fairly early on called for Casada to step down. Jerry Sexton, meanwhile, was a key figure in the successful push for the caucus to hold a confidence vote on Casada.
Hazlewood, a former top East Tennessee executive for Bell South/AT&T, has cited her business and nonprofit group leadership skills, as well as extensive fundraising experience in areas ranging from the United Way to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.
In a recent Times Free Press interview, Hazlewood, who had been named House Finance vice chair by Casada, said that while she in no way means to disparage the other candidates, "I just think right now, for where we are, I would be the better face of this caucus."
Alluding to complaints that Casada put Republicans under enormous pressure to vote for Republican Gov. Bill Lee's controversial school voucher bill, Hazlewood said "one of the things I want all to understand is we're all reflective of our districts. Under this leadership, everyone's going to be free to vote their districts," noting not all legislative districts are alike.
Faison, a small business owner and former House Government Operations Committee chair, was one of the earliest critics of Casada.
He recently told The Tennessean he believes he can be the "glue that will pull us all together. I get along with every group. I'll make sure that all 72 of my members are actually part of the solutions to the problems that we're facing."
While he's the youngest candidate, Curcio, who was appointed by Casada as Judiciary Committee chairman, is touting his political experience, including fundraising. He had been a Casada ally, with the two successfully pushing a controversial bill that reined in powers of appointed municipal police oversight boards.
"I have worked for congressional campaigns," the insurance broker told WKRN recently. "I have raised money for non-profits. So I have a great statewide network of donors."
Efforts to reach Sexton were unsuccessful. A furniture manufacturer and former pastor of a Baptist church, he is a staunch social conservative.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.