An emergency conference call hosted by House Speaker Glen Casada to address concerns among the 73 Republican caucus members over recent news stories involving Casada, his former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren and claims that the legislative culture needs to be changed revealed fault lines in the caucus, according to several Members who were on the call. The call was conducted at 1 pm Eastern Time on Wednesday, May 8.
“The call lasted about 45 minutes and Glen spoke about the issues that have arisen since late last week before opening it up for Members to ask questions or share their thoughts,” one Republican legislator confidentially told The Tennessee Star. “About a dozen of the legislators spoke up, some in support of Glen and a handful of others expressing their view that he should step down as Speaker. At this point, barring some new and significant revelation of misbehavior by Glen, I think the Caucus will continue to stand with him.”
Casada reportedly assured the Caucus that there is no other damaging information that will emerge. “There is nothing else to come out,” Casada said, according to those on the call.
Republican legislators who have expressed the opinion that Casada should resign include Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville), Rep. David Hawk (R-Greenville) (who ran against Casada for Speaker last year), and Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg).
Meanwhile, at least three other legislators expressed their support for Casada, including Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland), Rep. Susan Lynn (R- Mt. Juliet), Rep. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) and Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden), each of whom serve in leadership positions appointed by Casada.
Casada told the Caucus he would be issuing a statement Wednesday afternoon detailing plans to address some of the concerns about the culture of the legislature and apologizing for his own conduct. He does not plan to resign. Casada also indicated that he is calling on the investigation into allegations that he and/or his office altered an email in order to create legal issues for activist Justin Jones to be “expedited” in order to confirm that nothing improper was done in connection with the email received by his office after a court had ordered Jones to refrain from any contact with Casada or his office after his arrest on an assault charge related to a cup of coffee or tea thrown at the Speaker. Casada has denied, and the legislative information office has confirmed, that nothing was done improperly with respect to that email.
At 4 pm Eastern Time Wednesday afternoon, the Tennessee House Republican Caucus released the following statement from Speaker Casada:
I take complete ownership over the text messages with inappropriate comments about women that I exchanged with my former Chief of Staff and another individual several years ago. It’s embarrassing and humbling to have it displayed in this manner. I apologize and hope that my friends, family, colleagues, and constituents find a way to forgive me for it because it is not the person I am and it hasn’t been the way I have conducted myself as Speaker.
I’d also like to take the time to express my sincere disappointment for the myriad of other messages between my former Chief of Staff and another individual that have surfaced which included racial slurs, drug use, and various other inappropriate comments. I condemn them in their entirety and I do not tolerate that type of behavior as an elected official or as a human being.
Moving forward, I have put together an action plan to be executed by members of my staff, members of the House Ethics Committee, and the joint legislative offices that seeks to provide clarity to what has transpired, as well as ensure that I am doing everything within my power to prevent future missteps. I look forward to executing this plan as I work towards establishing trust where it has been broken and ensuring that the House is more ready than ever to conduct the people’s business.
Democrats are also divided about what should be done next, particularly as one of their members, Rep. Rick Staples (R-Knoxville), has faced allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct during the Legislative session that just ended.
Some have suggested that Casada should immediately move to remove Staples from the legislature, just as was done to former Rep. Jeremy Durham, as part of an effort to “clean up the culture” in the legislative body. “Have a vote on removing Staples right now and let’s see how many of the Democrats clamoring for action will step up and vote to remove him,” one Capitol Hill staffer suggested. “And while we are at it let’s do drug testing for every legislator and their staff…this afternoon! How many would suddenly head home sick with some illness to avoid a surprise drug test today?”
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Steve Gill is the Political Editor of the Tennessee Star.
Photo “Glen Casada” by Glen Casada.