Tennessee House Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton (R-Cookeville) has scheduled a meeting of the 73 member House Republican Caucus for Monday, May 20 at 2:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at a location yet to be announced and will reportedly be closed to the media.
Caucus Chairman Sexton scheduled the meeting after he communicated with almost every caucus member on Tuesday in response to his receipt of a letter dated May 10 and signed by State Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) regarding “A Called Meeting of the House Republican Caucus.” The Tennessee Star has received a copy of this letter.
An additional 11 members agreed to sign the letter, according to Caucus Chairman Sexton. “I have received the same signed letter or verified with each individual their name as part of this letter,” Caucus Chairman Sexton said.
Those 11 are:
- Representative Chris Todd, District 73, Madison County
- Representative Jason Zachary, District 14, Knox County
- Representative Chris Hurt, District 82, Lauderdale, Crockett and Haywood Counties
- Representative Justin Lafferty, District 89, Knox County
- Representative Patsy Hazlewood, District 27, Hamilton County
- Representative Dan Howell, District 32, Meigs, Polk and Bradley Counties
- Representative Mike Carter, District 29, Hamilton County
- Representative Terri Lynn Weaver, District 40, DeKalb, Sumner, Smith and Trousdale Counties
- Representative John Ragan, District 33, Anderson County
- Representative Jay Reedy, District 74, Houston, Humphreys and Montgomery Counties
- Assistant Majority Leader Ron Gant, District 94, Fayette, McNairy and Hardeman Counties
Only two of the signators–Representatives Patsy Hazlewood and Terri Lynn Weaver— have been reported to have called for Casada to step down as Speaker.
The purpose of the meeting, the letter states, is to discuss the sentiment of the Caucus regarding support for Speaker Glen Casada and, if duly moved by the Caucus, to conduct a secret ballot vote to establish whether Speaker Casada has the support of the Caucus to continue in his current position as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The overarching goal, according to the letter, is that the Caucus move forward as a constructive, united Caucus for the House as a body on behalf of all Tennesseans.
The letter states specifically that the meeting is called for these purposes and no other.
According to the Bylaws of The House of Republican Caucus, which were shared with The Tennessee Star on the condition they could be cited in this story but not published, there are only two specified outcomes of Monday’s meeting of the House Republican Caucus:
- Expulsion from the Caucus, which requires a four-fifths vote of the Caucus members present.
- Censure by the Caucus, which requires a two-thirds vote of the Caucus members present.
The potential action called for in the May 10 letter to Caucus Chairman Sexton–a secret ballot of members to establish whether Speaker Casada has the support of the Caucus to continue in his current position as Speaker of the House of Representatives–is not an action defined in the Bylaws, but neither is it prohibited.
The Bylaws state that any member is allowed to present a proposal to be considered for a Caucus position. The only proposal suggested in the May 10 letter that could be addressed in Monday’s caucus meeting is the one calling for a secret ballot of members to establish whether Speaker Casada has the support of the Caucus to continue in his current position as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Under the bylaws, however, that proposal–like all other proposals–requires agreement by the greater of two-thirds of the entire Caucus membership or three-quarters of the members present in order to be officially adopted as a Caucus position.
If a particular statement of position is adopted and promoted in the media, the Bylaws recommend that House Republican Caucus members refrain from speaking publicly against that Caucus position.
Alternatively, a proposal indicating support for Speaker Casada would also require agreement by the greater of two-thirds of the entire Caucus membership or three-quarters of the members present in order to be officially adopted as a Caucus position.
According to the Caucus Bylaws, a House Republican Caucus meeting may be called through three specified means: by the Republican Leader or Caucus Chair; by request in writing by any two of the Republican leadership; or by petition in writing of any ten members of the Caucus or oral request of any ten members.
The May 10 letter received by The Star met the “petition in writing of any ten members of the Caucus” method as it included a signature by Representative Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) and the 11 other members identified above.
As Caucus Chair, the Bylaws specify that State Rep. Cameron Sexton will be the presiding officer and maintain order over meetings of the Caucus. Other duties of the Chair relative to meetings of the Caucus include providing a forum whereby the will of the majority shall prevail while protecting the rights of those whose views appear to be in the minority at a given time as well as refraining from debate, while in the chair, as either proponent or opponent of a matter before the Caucus.
This latter stipulation could be particularly important at the upcoming Caucus meeting, as Cameron Sexton in holding the second ranking officer in the Caucus, would be considered a potential candidate for Speaker.
In a comment to The Star, Caucus Chair Cameron Sexton confirmed that, in his role, it is his “duty to allow and conduct a meeting with members of the caucus where all members are heard and given time to express their opinions while maintaining proper decorum and respect for one another.”
While the Caucus Bylaws do not specifically address whether secret ballots are permitted, presumably that is an option available to the Caucus Chair as the presiding officer. Secret ballots were used during the November 2017 Republican Caucus elections.
A final qualifier, which concludes the letter, states that the signatures of the members on the letter should not be construed as indicating any particular position they may be taking at the meeting.
As reported by The Star, there is no clear legal path to force the removal of Casada as the Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives.
In addition to The Constitution of the State of Tennessee stipulating that a Speaker is elected for two years, the House Republican Caucus Bylaws also specify that leadership shall be elected for a two-year term.
There are no explicit provisions in the Bylaws for the removal of leadership of the House Republican Caucus, although resignations must be submitted in writing to the Republican Leader.
Any member of the House Republican Caucus who, by criminal activity or other serious notorious misconduct, brings discredit to the Republican Caucus may be expelled by a vote of four-fifths of the membership.
In order for the House Republican Caucus to be able to conduct business, a quorum, defined as 50 percent plus one of the membership – or 37 of the total 73 Republican members in attendance – is necessary. If such a motion were made and all members are present for Monday’s Caucus meeting, attaining the four-fifths requirement would require 58 of the 73 members voting for Casada’s expulsion.
Conversely, it would take just 15 Republican House members to oppose expelling Casada from the Caucus.
Political opponents have made accusations of wrongdoing relative to the vote on the Education Savings Accounts legislation, altering of an email to frame Justin Jones who was arrested on charges of assault against Casada and unauthorized surveillance within the Cordell Hull Building.
In addition to the lack of evidence that these allegations are currently under investigation, no criminal charges have been filed against Casada.
In a statement issued to the Caucus, Casada maintains that claims of email manipulation and the installation of secret listening devices “are completely false.”
As far as activities that qualify as “serious notorious misconduct” as criteria for expulsion from the Caucus, no specifics are offered in the Bylaws as guidance for the House Republican members in their decision making.
An option in the Bylaws for disciplinary action of a member is censuring, which would require a vote by two-thirds of the Caucus.
According to the Bylaws, a vote for censure can result in any or all of: a letter of reprimand kept on file for public viewing, denial of attendance at Caucus functions, denial of Caucus funding and recommendation to the State Republican Party for disqualification.
Other disciplinary actions may be brought against a member with a four-fifths vote of the membership, although, no examples are provided to guide Republican Caucus members in those disciplinary actions.
Thus far, it has been a minority of the House Republican members who have called for Casada to step down as Speaker. If the majority of the Republican Caucus votes in support of Casada as Speaker and presents such position to the media, the unwritten expectation would be that public calls for his resignation would cease.
With the specific stipulation in the letter requesting the Caucus meeting, that the purpose of the meeting is so the Caucus can move forward as a constructive, unified body, it is unclear whether a vote to censure or expel could even be taken up.
The stated restrictive purpose of the meeting may also serve to avoid addressing additional uncomfortable issues with other members such as the decades-old claims of sexual misconduct by Representative David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) or the outing of Representative Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) as the reported operator of the anonymous @CHBMole Twitter account, which disparaged House members and staff.
Given the plan for no media to be present on Monday, House Republican Caucus Chair Cameron Sexton was asked how he envisions dealing with or acting upon the outcome of the meeting.
Sexton told The Star, “As far as the outcome of the meeting or various motions made in the meeting, it would be inappropriate to make a statement about any intended action or potential outcome until the caucus has been able to meet.”
“If the caucus does take a certain direction or desire to move in certain direction then that would be communicated at the appropriate time,” concluded Sexton.
Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.