Casada’s chief of staff resigns after sexual texts with intern

House Speaker Glen Casada’s Chief of Staff Cade Cothren following a whirlwind day of revelations including that he sent text messages soliciting sex acts from an intern and used cocaine in his legislative office, The Tennessean reports.

Cothren the top strategist for Casada’s campaign to nail down his election as speaker by getting involved in contested primaries for open Republican seats last year. Cothren also played a pivotal role in ensuring the razor-thin passage of Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher bill.

“It was just a distraction,” Cothren told The Tennessean. “We’ve accomplished a lot of great things this year and I don’t want to take away from those for our caucus.”

Casada backs aide with history of drug use in legislative office

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’s top aide used cocaine in the legislative suite he once shared with the future leader of the chamber, according a report by WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams.

Cade Cothren managed Casada’s campaign form the vacant speakership position last year and was rewarded with the nearly $200,000-per-year position of chief of staff once the Franklin Republican was formally elected in January. Cothren previously earned $68,400 as a staffer.

UPDATE:

Within minutes of the report, Casada and Cothren issued a joint statement to the media.

“Nearly three years ago, Mr. Cothren approached me & confided in me that he was dealing with some personal issues and wanted to seek help after his struggles became apparent,” Casada said in the statement. “Knowing these issues were impacting his ability to fulfill his job duties, Mr. Cothren sought counseling and forgiveness, and has been doing an outstanding job ever since.”

Cothren accomplished since dealing with his personal issues.

“Like so many young, egotistical men aspiring to a career in politics that came before me, moving up the career ladder was met with unrelenting stress, peer pressure, and unrealistic expectations,” he said. “I know that this is not an excuse. Nonetheless, I unfortunately turned to maladaptive coping mechanisms. However, I thank God for these experiences because they’ve allowed me a unique opportunity to witness to the young men who will come after me that actions have consequences.”

That’s a wrap! Lawmakers go home for the year

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

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Tennessee General Assembly has concluded its business for the year. Here’s a roundup of some of the last-minute festivities:

UPDATE: Voucher compromise approved by both chambers

The House voted 51-46 to approve the compromise on Gov. Bill Lee’s voucher bill. The Senate followed suit 19-14 later in the day. The freshman governor says he “looks forward to signing this bill into law.”

Here’s the House vote:

The vote was 50-48 when it cleared the chamber the first time. There were several changes between the two votes, though. they include:

From no to yes: Reps. Patsy Hazlewood (R-Chattanooga), David Wright (R-Corryton).

From absent to yes: Rep. Debra Moody (R-Covington).

From yes to abstain: Reps. Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville), Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin).

(After the vote was all over, Daniel and Ogles filed paperwork to change their votes to be in favor of the measure. That change of heart will be reflected in the House Journal, but doesn’t affect the official tally taken through the voting machine).

The Senate lost one vote from its previous version when Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) switched from yes to no.

 

 

Lee to let online gambling bill become law without signature

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business in Nashville on Feb. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee plans to allow a bill to legalize online sports gambling in Tennessee to become law without his signature.

The bill cleared the House on a 58-37 vote last week and the Senate on Thursday passed its own version 19-12. The lower chamber then concurred with Senate changes on a 51-40 vote, sending the bill to Lee’s desk.

“The governor has said he does not believe that the expansion of gambling is best, but he recognizes that many in the legislature found this to be an issue they want to explore further,” said Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold. “He plans to let this become law without signature.”

Governors have 10 days from receiving a bill to either sign or veto it, or it becomes law without their signature.

Ashe not impressed by Joe Carr being hired by Lee administration

Former state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) announces his U.S. Senate bid in January 2013.

Color Victor Ashe unimpressed by Gov. Bill Lee’s hire of perennial candidate and former state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) as an assistant commissioner paying $135,000 per year.

As a lawmaker, “Carr was seldom viewed as leadership material among his peers,” Ashe writes in the Knoxville Shopper News. “The appointment was almost universally greeted with eyes rolling.”

Ashe is a former Knoxville mayor and state Senator who was appointed ambassador to Poland by President George W. Bush.

“Time will tell how this works out,” Ashe writes about Carr. “Hopefully this is an exception in the caliber of appointments Lee makes.

“However, if Carr serves the 7½ years left in Lee’s possible two terms, his state pension will jump considerably with his six years in the legislature. It will go from $450 a month to over $2,000 a month, starting at age 55, because he is a retired lawmaker.”

Boyd recommends Nebraska’s Plowman as UT-Knoxville chancellor

Randy Boyd speaks to reporters in Nashville on July 25, 2018. The former Republican gubernatorial candidate was nominated to serve as interim president of the University of Tennessee on Sept. 19, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Interim University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd is recommending Donde Plowman to become the ninth chancellor of the system’s flagship campus in Knoxville.

Plowman is the executive vice chancellor and chief academic officer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Under Donde’s leadership, I am looking forward to an exciting, successful and transformational future,”  Boyd said in a release. “Her student-first approach, her reputation as a dynamic leader and collaborator and her great love for the UT Knoxville will be great assets as we work together to advance the university and the state of Tennessee for many years to come.”

If approved by the board, Plowman will succeed Beverly Davenport, school’s first female chancellor who was fired last year amid criticism of her handling of UT’s botched football coaching search, her rejection of then-Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing initiatives, and (especially among lawmakers) for the ongoing student-led Sex Week activities on campus.

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GOP leaders hold secret weekend budget negotiations

The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison made the trek into the legislative office complex over the weekend to check up on budget negations between Republican leaders in the House and Senate. Once she showed up, the meeting was abruptly adjourned.

Secret meetings are nothing new at the General Assembly, which has exempted itself from the state’s open meetings laws. But that doesn’t make it look any better for leadership to hammer out details of the state’s annual spending plan behind closed doors.

Nashville, Memphis school districts threaten to sue over vouchers

The school districts covering Nashville and Memphis are threatening to sue the state if the General Assembly passes legislation to enact an expanded school voucher program affecting only their students. The so-called Education Savings Account bill passed both the House and Senate last week, but in competing forms.

Here’s the full release from Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools:

State’s 2 Largest School Districts Oppose Education Savings Account Legislation as Unconstitutional

The Education Savings Account (ESA) legislation violates Article XI, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution because it is arbitrarily limited to only a portion of the state when the Constitution requires any Act of the General Assembly to apply statewide unless approved by a local legislative body or through a local referendum.

The language, in both the House and Senate versions of the bill, reflects an arbitrary application to Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MPNS), as there are school districts such as Madison and Fayette county with larger or nearly the same percentages of schools performing in the bottom 10 percent. The legislation also applies to only certain districts with priority schools from the state’s 2015 priority school list even though there is a more current list from 2018 that includes schools in Campbell, Fayette, Madison and Maury counties. These districts are arbitrarily left out of the legislation.

Should this legislation be signed into law, an immediate constitutional challenge is likely to ensure equal protection under the law. Shelby County is no stranger to asserting and prevailing on such constitutional challenges as reflected in the November 27, 2012 decision in the case of Board of Education of Shelby County Tennessee et al v. Memphis City Board of Education by federal Judge Hardy Mays which rendered a similar bill void that was local in effect.

“If the Governor and Legislature are determined to pass a general law that would apply arbitrarily only to us or a limited number of school systems, we will be sure to exhaust all of our legal options,” said SCS Superintendent, Dr. Joris M. Ray.

“No matter what you call them, vouchers are a bad idea. They are not what we need for public schools. We owe it to this generation of students — and to all of those who follow them – to fight for a system that is fairly funded,” said Dr. Adrienne Battle, the MNPS Interim Director.

If the ESA bill becomes law, Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools stand prepared to evaluate and pursue all legal remedies that ensure that the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law remain intact for the children and families of our districts and state.

 

Voucher bill passes Senate on 20-13 vote

The Senate has voted 20-13 to pass Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher bill.

There are still major differences with the House, which passed its version by a bare minimum 50 votes earlier this week.

The Senate vote came after the chamber rushed to swear in new Republican member Bill Powers (R-Clarksville). Powers voted for the bill despite declaring during the campaign that he opposed vouchers.

It takes 17 votes for bills to pass the chamber.