GOP concerns over Casada controversy grow


By Stephen Elliott

NashvillePost.com

More and more Tennessee Republicans are calling for House Speaker Glen Casada to step down as the fallout from a controversy surrounding his now-former chief of staff stretches beyond the one-week mark.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said Friday that “it’s time for him to consider doing something else.” On Thursday night, Gov. Bill Lee said he would have fired Casada were the speaker in his administration. It took them a few days to get to that point, traveling the well-worn path from vague, anonymous concern to “let the House decide” to this. Casada even lost conservative radio hosts Phil Valentine and Brian Wilson, both of whom said he should resign.

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, another of the state’s most prominent Republicans, was a step behind Lee and McNally: On Thursday she said Casada’s texts were “pretty disgusting,” but that House Republicans should decide on his fate.

Scott Golden, chair of the Tennessee Republican Party, also stopped short of calling for Casada’s resignation, though he called the reports “very disappointing.”

“Currently, I am speaking with our state executive committee and other Republican leadership across the state about this unfolding situation,” Golden said. “I do have faith in our Republican leadership as a whole to address this situation and restore the trust of Tennessee’s voters.”

Though neither McNally nor Lee has any authority over who leads the House, some in the House Republican Caucus who do have that authority are taking action this week. A group of Republicans — led by Reps. Jason Zachary and Jerry Sexton — were set to submit a letter Friday triggering a caucus meeting at which the group could discuss Casada’s fate.

There’s a lot for them to discuss: Did Casada’s former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, who resigned earlier this week, knowingly submit false evidence about a black activist arrested at the Capitol? The speaker’s office maintains the mix-up was a result of a computer glitch, but the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators is planning to ask the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division via letter to look into it. It could be one of several investigations at the Capitol: The black caucus previously asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the email situation, but now they’re escalating, and the House Democratic Caucus previously asked the local U.S. Attorney to investigate a report that the speaker’s office was snooping in the legislative offices.

Are graphic texts sent by and to the speaker gross enough to warrant his ouster? Some Republicans think so, and have said as much.

As cracks started to show in the Republican caucus earlier this week, Casada apologized and put out an “action plan.” Per his action plan, Casada asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference to investigate the false-evidence matter, asked the House Ethics Committee to review Cothren’s termination, asked Legislative Administration Director Connie Ridley to consider drug testing new employees after reports that Cothren admitted using cocaine in his state office, and planned to meet with the black caucus to apologize and discuss next steps.

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