NASHVILLE — A Chattanooga Republican who blames 2018 attacks by Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada for his state House GOP primary loss to fellow Republican Esther Helton says "it is time for Speaker Glen Casada to step down."
Jonathan Mason also says it's time for Rep. Helton, R-East Ridge, to speak up on where she stands with regard to the embattled Casada, who faces multiple controversies stemming from sexist and racist texts sent by a former top aide, along with other eruptions.
"I think that she has an opportunity to lead on this issue or she has an opportunity to go along to get along, and that's to be up to her on what she chooses to do," Mason said in an interview Tuesday after recently posting a lengthy statement on his Facebook page and on Twitter.
Among Republicans who have called for the speaker to step down is Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain. Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, has also been critical of Casada but stopped short of calling for his removal.
Up until now, Helton has been silent about the controversy. But in an interview Tuesday night, Helton said Republicans are expected to hold a caucus meeting on Casada's fate next week and that "there's information that has not been made public that may change public opinion."
Meanwhile, Helton retorted that "I think Mr. Mason has selective morality" and said she won't make a final determination on Casada "until I get all of the information."
"I'm not going to come out and say anything about anybody," Helton said, "and I think some people have been a little premature. As far as my voting record, [Mason] said as long as I was conservative that he wouldn't run against me. I have voted very conservatively this year."
She cited her yes votes for two controversial abortion bills, Lee's voucher-style "school choice" legislation, a federal waiver providing financial relief through Medicaid for parents with severely disabled children and tax cuts.
Mason said earlier that "I essentially said as long as you make decisions in Nashville that go along my conservative principles and don't do anything that's embarrassing, there shouldn't be an issue with me running against you.
"I only believe in running against an incumbent if there's truly a need to replace them with someone else," Mason said. "Whether I run or somebody I'd support, I don't know how this changes things, because we haven't heard anything yet" from Helton.
So far, the debate over Casada has been largely at the state level, where at least nine House Republicans as well as Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker, have publicly called for Casada to step down over lewd and racist text messages leaked to television station WTFV and The Tennessean.
And on Monday, the Tennessee Black Caucus called for Casada to resign over another issue. The group charges that Casada's chief of staff, Cade Cothren, sought to put an activist, who had previously been arrested for allegedly assaulting the speaker by throwing a cup of coffee at him, for violating a no-contact order with an altered email.
Black lawmakers have also called on the U.S. attorney in Middle Tennessee, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, to investigate.
In posts on his Facebook page as well as Twitter, Mason charged the "actions of Speaker Casada and those closest to him are an absolute embarrassment to our state and those who serve its citizens."
The "immature, lewd, and possibly illegal behavior Speaker Casada has been involved in with his now former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren is bad, but his continuous stream of lies and attempts to explain away his actions make it clear that he will say and do anything to hold power," Mason wrote.
Casada "proved this before right here in Hamilton County when he said and did anything to acquire just one vote in his quest to be elected Speaker of the House," Mason said of Casada, a former House GOP Caucus chairman and most recently majority leader who was elected speaker in January.
Previous efforts to contact Helton had been unsuccessful until Tuesday evening, with the freshman lawmaker explaining she has been taking time off out of town following the end of the legislative session.
"I don't make it a habit to go and run down my opponents," Helton said. "I know he has an issue with Glen because Glen sent something out on my behalf last year. But I didn't even know that was going out."
Meanwhile, Helton said, Mason personally "has done the same thing to me" and cited a campaign attack last year where Mason had charged that Hamilton County Property Assessor Marty Haynes "lowered my property tax.
"I didn't even own that house and that was just a blatant lie," Helton said. "But I think he can dish things out, but he can't take it."
During last year's campaign, Casada's leadership political action committee, CAS-PAC, attacked Mason with a mailer charging that his employer, Unum, "has made huge sums of cash off Obamacare. Do you actually trust him to work against his own employer to repeal it?"
In another charge, the Casada mailer said Mason "won't stand for our values" and blamed him for "causing our healthcare costs to soar."
Repeal of the federal Affordable Care Act is actually a federal issue and in Congress's hands.
A Republican operative, who spoke on condition his name not be used, predicted that even if Casada survives a no-confidence vote in the 73-member Republican Caucus, his more outspoken supporters could face trouble not just from Democrats in close districts but also be vulnerable to attack in 2020 GOP primaries.
"People will lose because of Glen Casada in primaries and in the general. In primaries especially" he said. "Outside the state Capitol, they think this thing is gross."
In the 2014 to 2016 texts between Casada, Cothren and an unidentified man, there were multiple racist and sexist text messages.
Casada told reporters Monday "they'll realize" he only responded to two of the sex texts that Cothren sent to him and the other man. And he said he didn't see many of the others, including the racist texts.
Several hours later, Nashville television station WTVF published yet a third sex text exchange. It shows Casada joking yet again to a text from Cothren who at the time was press secretary for the House Republican Caucus which was chaired at the time by Casada.
WTVF said Cothren texted Casada a video of two young women dancing in Cothren's apartment. Casada asked whether they were 21 years of age. After Cothren said 18 is the age of consent, Casada replied, "Lol!!! And true!"
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.
Working overtime: Hoping to wrap up annual session, Tennessee House, Senate leaders meet over weekend in effort to resolve budget differences