Monthly Archives: June 2019

Gov. Lee to call special session on Casada replacement in mid-August

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) presides over a floor session in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee plans to call a special session for a House vote to replace Speaker Glen Casada in mid-August.

The governor announced his decision to call the special session in a press conference before the state Republican Party’s annual Statesmen’s dinner on Saturday.

Casada (R-Franklin) has said he plans to plan resign on Aug. 2 after losing a vote of confidence among members of the House Republican Caucus last month.

House Republicans expect Casada to keep to his original resignation date, meaning Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) would preside until a permanent replacement is elected during the special session.

A House Republican Caucus meeting to nominate the next speaker could be held in the latter half of next month.

Gov. Lee to head trade mission to Japan, South Korea

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is headed to Asia on a trade mission later this month, his office announced Thursday. Lee will be joined on the five-day trip by Bobby Rolfe, the commissioner of economic and community development. It’s the first-year governor’s first international trip and it will include stops in South Korea and Japan.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bob Rolfe will travel to Asia June 17 through June 21 for an economic development trip designed to strengthen ties with Asian businesses and increase foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tennessee. This will be Gov. Lee’s first international economic development trip.

During the five-day trip, Lee and Rolfe will discuss Tennessee’s business advantages with a number of Asian businesses interested in establishing operations in the Southeast U.S. The trip will include stops in South Korea and Japan.

“I look forward to traveling to Asia next week on my first international recruitment trip and having the opportunity to meet with business leaders as we showcase the many advantages of doing business in Tennessee,” Lee said. “We are proud to be home to more than 1,000 foreign-owned companies and will continue to demonstrate our commitment to fostering a business-friendly environment that will help companies from around the globe grow and succeed in the Volunteer State.”

Continue reading

Here’s what the state is doing in response to 2-year-old’s drowning at Cummins Falls

The drowning death of 2-year-old Steven Pierce has caused state officials to close off access to Cummins Falls. The boy was among dozens of people caught off guard by flooding at the park. Thirteen had to be rescued from the waters.

The death is the third at Cummins Falls in the past two years and has led to questions from a bipartisan group of state lawmakers about why the Department of Environment and Conservation had not yet followed through with plans to install a warning system at the park to alert visitors to rising water levels in the gorge.

Here is a memorandum prepared by Jim Bryson, the agency’s deputy commissioner, about plans moving forward.

MEMORANDUM

TO: David W. Salyers, Commissioner Department of Environment and Conservation

FROM: Jim Bryson, Deputy Commissioner Department of Environment and Conservation

DATE: June 12, 2019

SUBJECT: Cummins Falls Update

Responding to the Cummins Falls incident remains a top priority. The falls and gorge area are currently closed and will remain closed until we can evaluate the incident and review and implement additional safety protocols. The department will provide further notifications and updates as available.

Ongoing actions:

  • The After Action Report will be completed to investigate and document park policies and actions before, during and after the incident. From this report, additional measures may be identified.
  • Parks and Conservation GIS team has identified the watershed area for the region. See attached map.
  • We are currently talking to the National Weather Service to clarify watershed area that needs to be monitored continually and to agree on a new protocol for warning of potentially dangerous situations.
  • Flash flood warning signs will be posted at trailheads leading to the gorge.
  • An emergency procurement authorization has been secured to purchase and install a water flow monitoring system as an early warning system. It will be installed with all possible speed.
  • Parks has a funded capital project for a Visitor Center which will have the facilities for conducting safety programs. We are looking to implement a permit requirement that will help us manage the visitation and ensure visitors have attended the safety program before going down into the gorge.
  • The Visitors Center will be set up to have monitors for regular weather updates and the ability to receive notification from the flow meters that we are working with TTU to implement.

At a minimum, the falls and gorge area will remain closed until the department conducts a full assessment of the circumstances and considers and implements additional protocols to address rain events in the watershed area.

State Rep. Vincent Dixie sued by former campaign worker

A former campaign worker for state Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville) is suing the freshman lawmaker for unpaid wages.

The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison reports that Tamika White, the former field worker, alleges she was evicted from her home last month “in large part due to (Dixie’s) nonpayment” of $4,750 in ages.

Dixie said he had spoken with White a few months ago about paying the remaining balance of her wages over the next three months because he had to replenish his campaign funds and couldn’t raise money during the session.

“We don’t have any written contract,” Dixie said. “I can’t find it.”

“I don’t mind paying what I owe,” said Dixie, who has so far only paid White $1,750. “But I’m not going to pay some amount that (his attorney) has made up and thrown out there and thinks it’s going to stick.”

Dixie had $1,890 in his campaign account as of his most recent filing.

Several House Republicans want earlier Casada exit

Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) speaks to reporters in the House chamber in Nashville on April 17, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Several House Republicans are calling for embattled House Speaker Glen Casada to step aside sooner than his planned Aug. 2 exit date.

“I definitely think he needs to go sooner. He can resign. We have a speaker pro tem who can step in until we could have an election at whatever time is appropriate,” Rep. Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain) told Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) is the speaker pro tem.

“I definitely think (Casada) doesn’t have the confidence of the legislature, that’s clear,” Hazlewood added. “I think he doesn’t have the confidence of the governor and other people across the state.”

Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) said he’s worried about extending Casada’s power to make key appointments to boards and commissions, including the panel tasked with overseeing the state’s new online sports gaming law.

“If he’d given me some reason, that might have helped me to try and understand it,” said Carter, a candidate to succeed Casada. “But now with all these appointments and things coming, I’m just concerned about it. The bleeding continues.”

Continue reading

Casada retains appointment power until resignation

Among the panels up for new appointments is the nine-member Lottery Corporation Sports Wagering Advisory Council, which was created under a law passed this session and allowed to go into force without Gov. Bill Lee’s signature. The governor and the House and Senate speakers each get three appointments to the panel.

Among the potential Republican candidate to succeed Casada, three voted for sports gambling bill (Reps. Curtis Johnson, Cameron Sexton, and Robin Smith), while four voted against (Reps. Mike Carter, Bill Dunn, Matthew Hill, and Jerry Sexton.)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally also voted against the sports gambling bill.

Another panel is the reconstituted 16-member Board of Judicial Conduct. Casada gets four appointments on the panel, one of whom must be an an attorney and three others who cannot be an attorney or a current or former judge.

“I find it just shocking that the disgraced House speaker gets to name anybody to a sports gambling commission and a judicial oversight panel,” said former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe, a former Republican state senator and onetime U.S. ambassador to Poland.  “I would think the Republican majority would want to prevent that from happening.”

Scott Gilmer, who took over as chief of staff to the speaker following the resignation of Cade Cothren as Casada’s chief aide, told the paper the appointments need to made soon.

“Members of the gaming commission need to undergo a background check and that would take some work there,” he said.

Other boards, commissions, and councils with upcoming vacancies include the TennCare Pharmacy Advisory Committee, Advisory Council on State Procurement, the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission, the Commission on Aging and Disability, and Energy Efficient Schools Council. The House speaker has the power to fill two positions on each panel.

“My guess is I don’t think the speaker will fill most of these,” Gilmer said. “Probably most of these we’ll leave to the next person. But if there’s some more pressing ones like the Board of Judicial Conduct and the gaming commission, I think he could appoint those. But we haven’t yet.”

Carter raises concerns about Casada becoming ‘shadow speaker’

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) speaks to Republican colleagues in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) is raising concerns that Glen Casada is trying to influence the outcome of the race to succeed him so he can act as the “shadow speaker” even after he’s no longer in charge of the chamber.

According to a report from Andy Sher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Casada targeted Carter in an email to Republican colleagues for “using his position on the House Ethics Committee as a platform to run for Speaker, much in the same way he wrongfully accused me of trying to predetermine an outcome from the committee to remain as speaker.”

Carter issued a statement to the paper saying the email from Casada confirmed his concerns that the speaker’s efforts to remain in power until Aug. 2 “would be destructive” to the House.

Casada “is intent on using his position and his substantial PAC funding to punish those who dared to challenge him and to use his position to pick his successor so that he will, in effect, be the shadow speaker,” Carter said in the statement.

Casada’s email attacking Carter drew a rebuke from Rep. David Hawk.

“So, is this what our Republican House Caucus can expect from you over the next two months, as you intend to hang on as speaker?!” Hawk wrote to colleagues.

“Do you and your remaining supporters in the House continually intend to attack those of us who have rightfully called for your resignation? You, trying to assign blame to others for your downfall is wrong on multiple levels. Stop!”

Tea party figure Phillips disbarred again

Attorney Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, has been disbarred again, WSMV-TV reports.

“Mr. Phillips consented to disbarment because he could not successfully defend himself on charges alleged in forty-one pending disciplinary complaints,” according to the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility.

Phillips was previously disbarred last year after clients alleged his withheld unreasonable fees for work related to timeshare litigation.

Phillips organized the 2010 National Tea Party Convention in Nashville. He has been a regular contributor to the conservative Tennessee Star website.

Casada to step down as speaker Aug. 2, requests successor vote be held same day

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), right, meets with colleagues on the Senate floor on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Glen Casada plans to step down as House speaker on Aug 2. He is asking Gov. Bill Lee to call a  special session to elect a new leader of the chamber that same day.

Casada began holding talks about the timetable for his resignation following his return from a European vacation on Monday. The House Republican Caucus had voted 45-24 last month to approve a resolution declaring lost confidence in the speaker over a text message scandal and his heavy-handed leadership style.

Here’s the text of Casada’s letter to colleagues on Tuesday:

June 4th, 2019

House Members of the 111th General Assembly:

I resign from my position as Speaker of the House of Representatives, effective Friday, August 2nd at 8:00 am. I also request that Governor Bill Lee call the General Assembly into a special session for legislative business on that day. During the special session, the House may take up the procedural matter of electing a new Speaker to lead the chamber.

/signed/

Glen Casada

State Representative, District 63

State Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini criticized the delay in Casada’s planned resignation:

Every day that Glen Casada is in office is a slap in the face to to women, communities of color, and all Tennesseans who expect real work and not lines of coke to be done at the state capitol. Democrats have been sounding the alarm since Casada’s corruption began, and we’ll continue to fight to restore accountability and decency to the Tennessee legislature.

Freshman Smith sees ‘opportunity’ to succeed Casada

Freshman Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) attends a House floor session in Nashville on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Freshman Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) sees an “opportunity” to succeed House Speaker Glen Casada, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.

Casada (R-Franklin) announced plans to resign following a 45-24 vote by the House Republican Caucus to approve a resolution declaring lost confidence in the speaker over a text message scandal and his heavy-handed leadership style. Smith had argued against the resolution during the closed-door caucus meeting.

Smith cited her strong relationship with her 19 fellow freshman in the 73-member caucus.

“We’re the ones bringing ethics reform to the table when others have not,” Smith told the paper. “I think there’s an opportunity for us to stick together as a class. But I’m not going to make that presumption, I’m not going to speak on their behalf.”

“I’m not going to take anyone’s vote for granted regardless of their tenure,” she said.

Smith is a former state Republican Party chairwoman, who took a hard line in stripping former Speaker Kent Williams of Elizabethton of his ability to seek re-election as a Republican because he had been elected to lead the chamber by Democrats.

Smith worked as a campaign consultant for the House GOP during the 2018 campaign cycle, earning $37,000 for her efforts. She lost out her effort to land the same role in 2016 to Chip Saltsman, another former state GOP chairman, who is now supporting Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) for speaker.

Saltsman also managed U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann’s successful GOP primary campaign against Smith in 2010.

Reps. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) and Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) are the only formally declared candidates so far, but several others are actively seeking support for bids.