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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee speaks during the Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit on the campus of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on Thursday, May 30, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Gov. Lee gave the keynote address to the summit.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee announced Saturday night he will call a special legislative session in August for House Republicans to elect a new House speaker and replace current Speaker Glen Casada, who plans to step down Aug. 2 amid a swirl of controversies.

"I have spoken with a number of folks in the legislature, particularly in the House, and have decided we will call a special session, probably in mid-to- late August," Lee told reporters moments before the start of Tennessee Republicans' annual fundraiser. "We're going to talk to folks and determine across the legislature the very exact date of that."

He said he plans to issue the call and announce the date when he returns from an economic development trip next week in Asia. 

House GOP leaders had been sounding out members on a special session to replace Casada. House and Senate members can call themselves into a special meeting with two-thirds agreement from the 99 members in the chamber. In the House, Republicans have 73 members.

Asked why he felt the need to issue the call and whether that meant GOP leaders were unable to hit the 66-member requirement — a number of Democrats say Casada should simply resign and allow Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, to automatically become speaker, Lee said "I've spoken with many folks in the legislature and we agree that it's time to move forward.

"And the best way to do that is to go ahead and call session and name a date so we can begin making plans," Lee said.

Engulfed by controveries over racist and sexually explicit text messages, along with other problems, Casada was slapped by fellow Republicans with a 45-24 vote of no confidence on May 21. 

Following the vote, the speaker initially said he hoped to work to regain GOP colleagues' trust, but he agreed to step down the same day Lee threatened to call lawmakers into special session to remove him if Casada did not agree to step down. 

Casada did agree to step down, but it was only earlier this month that he finally set Aug. 2 as the date to resign his speakership. He also urged Lee to call lawmakers into special session to replace him on that date. 

Six Republicans, including Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah and Rep. Robin Smith of Hixson, have either announced or have been taking a hard look at announcing their candidacy for the position.

Others include GOP Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville, Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill, a Jonesborough Republican and Casada ally, former Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson of Clarksville, and former GOP Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams of Cookeville.

After becoming speaker in January, his yearslong dream, Casada moved aggressively and roiled a number of lawmakers. He ramrodded Lee's controversial school voucher bill through the House, which at the end stalemated on a 49-49 vote before the speaker found a 50th vote for passage.

But in the waning days of the session, a series of texts leaked showing exchanges he'd had three years ago with a top aide, Cade Cothren. Casada responded approvingly or jokingly to three sexually explicit texts. There was a racist meme about a West Tennessee House district with a large number of black voters. Casada didn't respond to that.

Cothren also boasted in one text about having using cocaine in a legislative officer.

Other issues came to the forefront, including charges by a black civil rights activist and his attorney who said Cothren sought to frame him for allegedly violating a no-contact order involving the speaker.

And a Nashville television news account raised questions about whether the FBI was making inquiries into what steps Casada took in order to get the school voucher bill passed.

Carter, a member of the House Ethics Committee, charged that Casada was trying to whitewash an advisory ethics committee opinion the speaker sought regarding his actions involving Cothren, a charge Casada denied.

Majority Leader William Lamberth, a Portland Republican who isn't among the six eying running, had been querying GOP lawmakers, who represent 73 of the chamber's 99 members — about a special session this month to replace Casada.

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

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