Three State Representatives who have called on Speaker Glen Casada to resign following the release of sexually explicit text messages are silent on whether they invited reporters from The Tennessean to participate in a confidential conference call of the House Republican Caucus on Wednesday.
As was reported Wednesday, “The Tennessean listened to the business-like phone call after being invited to by multiple lawmakers.”
State Representatives David Hawk (R-Greeneville), Sam Whitson (R-Franklin) and Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg), all of whom have called for Casada to step down from his role as Speaker, did not respond to an emailed question by The Tennessee Star on Thursday as to whether they were among the lawmakers who invited The Tennessean to the conference call held by Speaker Casada on Wednesday.
Two other state lawmakers who have weighed in on the recent controversy were asked the same question and both responded promptly to The Star.
State Representative Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby), who made a very clear statement about Casada resigning to News Channel 5, emphatically denied that he invited the Tennessean to the conference call, responding, “Absolutely not.”
Faison went on to explain, “My GOP caucus means to (sic) much to me than to betray their trust.”
Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) likewise said he did not invite The Tennessean to the conference call. “I did not invite the press to the conference call nor do I know who did,” Dunn told The Star.
Perhaps speaking to the situation that might apply to other House lawmakers who also participated in the conference call, “I was not aware they were on the call,” revealed Dunn.
Whitson, in his first term voted for the gas-tax increasing IMPROVE Act in 2017 and voted against the Education Savings Accounts measure this legislative session, called Casada his friend as he asked Casada to step down from his position as Speaker.
During the battle in the legislature over the gas tax increase, Hawk came up with a plan to use the overflowing sales tax to fund the projects identified in the IMPROVE Act, which Casada supported. Hawk ran unsuccessfully against Casada in the House Republican Caucus elections for the position of Speaker-elect.
Tillis, younger brother of North Carolina’s U.S. Senator Thom Tillis, was outed this week by fellow House member Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden) as the anonymous Twitter account @CHBmole.
As reported by The Star, the anonymous tweets from @CHBmole were derogatory in nature toward legislators and staff and may have leaked information prior to official release.
Tillis also did not respond to The Star’s request for comment on his role with the @CHBmole Twitter account.
Faison told The Star, when asked if he had any information on who might have invited the press to the conference call, “Shame on whoever did. I’m impressed with people who don’t act in secrecy. You want (sic) ever wonder what I’m thinking. I expect the same from others. Nothing worse than a sneaky person who isn’t brave enough to just be who they are.”
Two other Republican legislators on the call told The Star that they were not aware The Tennessean had been invited to listen to the call. Both said they and the other Caucus members should have been advised that reporters were secretly listening.
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Laura Baigert is a senior reporter at The Tennessee Star.