Sometime this afternoon, the Republican members of the Tennessee Legislature will join a growing chorus of those convinced it is time for Glen Casada, the group’s Speaker of the House, to step down. They will cite several tawdry emails between Casada’s former Chief of Staff and himself as the reason but that’s not entirely true. Casada will step down in great shame because he has most assuredly presented himself time and time again as a jerk in the five months he’s held the position.
“Jerk” is not a word to be used lightly but after the disturbing emails surfaced, the mounds of evidence that he has repeatedly abused his position, allegedly attempted to control the legislature’s ethics committee, and created an unwanted regretful atmosphere in the Legislature, this assuring us that there is a rotten apple in Nashville.
"In my six years on the ethics panel this is wholly without precedent," said Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah), who is a former Hamilton County General Sessions Court judge and has a penchant for fairness.
"If the requestor is willing to rig and predetermine an outcome of the ethics committee, he is, in my opinion ... not fit to hold the trust of his office or the state of Tennessee."
Casada (R-Franklin) took over as Speaker of the House when the 111th session of the General began in January. Some say they sensed he was far below the standard the people of Tennessee deserved and he hasn’t been slow in trying to prove it. Twelve months ago his bid for re-election was being challenged in the August primary by a promising black woman, Raeshawn Sanchez, in affluent Williamson County. She had done all that was asked to properly deserve a place on the ballot.
But approximately 20 minutes before the May 2018 deadline to qualify for the primary – unbeknownst to Sanchez – the head of the Republican Party in Tennessee, Scott Golden, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Tre Hargett that Ms. Sanchez had been disqualified by the GOP and that her name should be stricken from the ballot. It seems she was believed not to be a “bonafied Republican” and when informed by an email – this after the deadline – Ms. Sanchez said she was “shocked, to say the least!”
Casada claims he was not involved in the decision, just as Senator Marsha Blackburn, also from Williamson County, said she had nothing to do with seven others who were disqualified in her race by Golden. It was soon learned Golden was once an employee of Blackburn’s but by then there was no time left for an appeal.
Casada became the Speaker of the House when Beth Harwell stepped down to unsuccessfully run for Governor. Today it appears Casada is also in for a defeat. Insiders say they believe it is clear he has little, if any chance, at weathering the storm he will face today. Not only has Casada violated the trust of Tennessee voters, he has become a huge embarrassment to both the Republican Party and the entire legislature.
A hurried view of national news outlets reveals the scandal has even given the state a glaring black eye and today’s meeting of the Republican Caucus promises to be so heady it is closed to the public and news media. There is a persistent rumor cell phones will not be allowed and a heavy security presence will be on hand.
Governor Bill Lee said that if Casada was one of his employees, the governor would demand his resignation. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally was just as adamant. “If it was me my bags would be packed and I would be driving to Oak Ridge right now.”
Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain) wrote Casada early last week over her concerns but by Friday had learned enough. “I think it would be in the best interest of our House, the state of Tennessee and our party for Speaker Casada to step down. We need to put this behind us, focus on carrying out the positive agenda set forth by Governor Lee and the 111th General Assembly, and continue to do what's best for the citizens of Tennessee."
The most damning commit came from Monty Lankford — former head of the Leaders of Tennessee political action committee — who said Casada had lost his "morality" and needed to step away from politics. Lankford and Casada have been friends for over 30 years yet Monty told reporters from the Tennessean newspaper: “Last fall when he was running for speaker, I told him at that point I didn’t think he should run because he had lost his moral compass along the way," Lankford said.
"We had a fairly heated exchange of words. I said, 'Glen, you made a commitment to God and to your wife. You kept neither of those. How can I trust you?'” he told news outlets: “This is why I am going to be pushing for the caucus to help him step down."
Lankford, keenly aware what the scandal will mean to the Republican Party in Tennessee, wasn’t finished. “I was a little different than a lot of people," he said. "I confronted him on a lot of issues. I don’t agree with it. I have a problem with hypocrisy. When I see things like this happen, it really hurts. I am going to be loyal to truth. I told Glen this: ‘Anytime a representative cannot discipline their own life, they have no right to make laws for other people.’"
Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) has been adamant Casada needs to step down.” Tillis is the House Majority Whip who told reporters, “With the circumstances at hand and the developments today, the behavior seems to continue. I am not sure of the procedural rules. The governor could call for a special session. I am not sure …
“(This) is an unfortunate circumstance but the people of Tennessee deserve better. I am frustrated, embarrassed and ashamed. I don’t want to sound like talking points, but this isn’t how people in this position should behave,” Tillis added, “We only know what's been provided, is there more?"
The state Capitol is awash with rumors. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and speaker pro tempore, also wonders what may be uncovered. “The truth eventually comes out," he said. "Once again, when the truth comes out, we have to have the defense and the deflection and everything."
Jeremy Faison(R-Cosby) said in a TV interview, “I don't know how it's possible to be an effective leader, knowing what we know. "We don't need to be pulled down by Speaker Casada. He needs to step down as speaker, and then allow Williamson County to find out if they want to keep him as a representative."
"Once you're elected and you gain the public's trust,” Faison said, adding, “You're held to a different standard ... it's not locker room talk to me, it's perversion. You're an elected official, act like it."
Later Faison would send out this tweet: “The person sitting in the car while the bank is being robbed is just as guilty as the bank robber. Racism, objectifying of women, spying, and bullying are all evil. You cannot effectively lead and simultaneously be complicit with evil.”
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“I think when any of us serve in public office, we’re doing it because we think it’s the best thing for the state," former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said following a groundbreaking in Knox County, according to WBIR-TV. "And I think Glen has to ask himself: Is remaining in position as speaker the best thing for the state? It’s hard for me to see how that would be true."