NASHVILLE — Less than 24 hours after embattled Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada announced he would delay resigning his speakership until Aug. 2, the speaker on Wednesday set off yet another political explosion.
His target? Fellow Republican Rep. Mike Carter, of Ooltewah — a Casada critic now among several Republicans vying to replace the disgraced speaker, who was pressured to resign amid a flood of allegations that began with sexually explicit and racist text messages between Casada and his then-top aide Cade Cothren.
In an early morning email to GOP Caucus members, Casada returned to one of the controversies that helped force him into announcing he would step down — a House Ethics Advisory Committee opinion he had sought last month regarding actions he had taken "relative" to the resignation of Cothren.
On May 17, Carter, an attorney who has served as an Ethics Committee member for seven years, said it appeared to him that Casada was willing to "rig and predetermine" the ethics panel's course after he was presented a legal opinion by staff attorneys that Carter saw as an effort to "exonerate" the speaker for his actions.
After Carter returned to the issue in an email last week, Casada struck back Wednesday in his email to GOP lawmakers.
"I would represent to you that Representative Carter is using his position on the House Ethics Committee as a platform to run for Speaker, much in the same way he wrongfully accused me of trying to predetermine an outcome from the committee to remain as Speaker," Casada wrote in the email.
"Otherwise," Casada said, "he would have responded to my [prior] letter in full, instead of focusing in on the portions of events that were entirely out of my control."
Carter struck back in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon to the Times Free Press in which he said the speaker's email vindicates concerns that Casada's decision to remain in power for the next two months "would be destructive" to the House.
Moreover, Carter charged, Casada's motive in not leaving now is that he "is intent on using his position and his substantial PAC funding to punish those who dared to challenge him and to use his position to pick his successor so that he will, in effect, be the shadow Speaker."
While Casada has said he will resign the speakership, he has not said whether he will resign his House seat.
The latest blows come after the speaker was slapped May 20 by fellow Republicans in a 45-24 vote in which they said they no longer had confidence in Casada's ability to be speaker, a post he has coveted for years and to which he was finally elected in January.
Following the no confidence vote, Casada said he hoped to regain colleagues' trust — following his brief European vacation. But that came crashing down when Republican Gov. Bill Lee declared the night of the caucus vote that he would call lawmakers into special session to deal with Casada if he didn't agree to resign.
Casada did but he didn't set a timetable until Tuesday, immediately prompting criticism.
His email attacking Carter, meanwhile, drew fire from Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, who said in his own missive to Casada and GOP colleagues, "So, is this what our Republican House Caucus can expect from you over the next two months, as you intend to hang on as speaker?!
"Do you and your remaining supporters in the House continually intend to attack those of us who have rightfully called for your resignation? You, trying to assign blame to others for your downfall is wrong on multiple levels. Stop!"
Hawk then added that "your audacity in thinking that you can set your own time frame for resignation as speaker is unacceptable, as well. Once again, I ask that you resign immediately from serving as Tennessee Speaker of the House."
In his statement, Carter said if Casada "has any remaining loyalty to the House of Representatives or the State of Tennessee, he will resign immediately so that Bill Dunn can assume the role and restore trust, respect and integrity."
Dunn is the House speaker pro tem and would become speaker if he stepped down and there was not an immediate election to replace him.
"I sincerely believe this is best course of action for the State of Tennessee and call on all Speaker candidates to support it," Carter said.
Others eyeing the race include Rep. Robin Smith, of Hixson, who previously argued Casada should be censured and not ousted, as well as Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill, of Jonesborough, who was named to that post as well as chairman of the Ethics Committee by Casada.
GOP Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton, of Crossville, is interested, as well.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.