Bill Lee

Sports betting bill becomes law without Lee signature

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at an economic development announcement in Nashville on March 20, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Lee has allowed the online sports gambling bill to become law without his signature.

Here is his letter to House Speaker Glen Casada explaining his actions:

RE: House Bill 0001/Senate Bill 0016 Speaker Casada:

I am letting House Bill 0001 become law without my signature.

I do not believe the expansion of gambling through online sports betting is in the best interest of our state, but I appreciate the General Assembly’s efforts to remove brick and mortar establishments. This bill ultimately did not pursue casinos, themost harmful form of gambling, which I believe prey on poverty and encourage criminal activity.

Compromise is a central part of governing, but I remain philosophically opposed to gambling and will not be lending my signature to support this cause. We see this issue differently but let me be cle ar: any future efforts to expand gambling or introduce casinos in Tennessee will assure my veto.


Bill Lee

Casada to resign upon return from trip abroad

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone as he awaits the joint convention to hear Gov. Bill Lee’s first State of the State address in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Glen Casada plans to resign upon his return from a trip to Europe.

“When I return to town on June 3rd, I will meet with Caucus leadership to determine the best date for me to resign as Speaker so that I can help facilitate a smooth transition,” Casada (R-Franklin) said in a statement.

Casada’s long-planned vacation is scheduled to begin Friday. The decision to resign from the chamber’s top leadership post follows an overwhelming vote of no confidence from the House Republican Caucus on Monday. Gov. Bill Lee had said he would call a special legislative session if Casada did not resign.

“Speaker Casada has made the right decision, and I look forward to working with the legislature to get back to conducting the people’s business and focusing on the issues that matter most to our state,” Lee said in a statement.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) also lauded the decision.

“Speaker Casada announcing his intent to resign is the right decision for the legislature, the Republican Party and the statem,” McNally said. “I commend him for it. Now we move forward. I am committed to working with leadership in the House to help restore the trust that has been lost in any way I can.”

Gov. Bill Lee to call special session if Casada doesn’t resign

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters on March 19, 2019, about his proposal to introduce an education savings account program in Tennessee. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee said Monday eventing that House Republicans had sent a “clear message” in their 45-24 vote to declare they had lost confidence in the leadership of Speaker Glen Casada. “I’m prepared to call a special session if the Speaker doesn’t resign,” the govenror said in a statement.

Lee had said before a special House Republican Caucus meeting that he would await the outcome of the no-confidence vote to see whether it would serve a “signal” to whether the body wanted a special session. Apparently it did.

Casada told the caucus after the vote that he planned to spend the coming months trying to regain the confidence.


House Republican leaders issued a statement calling on Casada to resign and applauding Lee’s willingness to call a special session. The statement was signed by:

  • Rep. Cameron Sexton (Caucus Chairman)
  • Rep. Ron Gant (Assistant Majority Leader)
  • Rep. Matthew Hill (Deputy Speaker)
  • Rep. Chris Todd (Freshman Leader)
  • Rep. Rick Tillis (Majority Whip)
  • Rep. Paul Sherrell (Majority Floor Leader)
  • Rep. Clay Doggett (Majority Secretary)
  • Rep. Mark Cochran (Majority Treasurer)

[House Majority Leader William Lamberth had issued a statement earlier calling for the special session.]

Gov. Bill Lee offers thoughts on GOP caucus meeting on Casada

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) is sworn in a as speaker of the House on Jan. 9., 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee spoke to reporters on Monday morning about his thoughts going into the special House Republican Caucus meeting on whether members still have confidence in the leadership of Speaker Glen Casada. Lee has said he would have fired Casada if he worked in the executive branch or for his private company, but that the decision over the speaker’s fate lies with members of the House.

Q: What’s your take on Casada developments?

Lee: There’s a vote today that will be important and we’ll learn a lot about that. The legislature, it’s their decision, it’s their vote. So we’ll be watching and see what happens.

Q: What’s your hope?

Lee: My hope is that they exercise their ability to the leader, and they’ll do so to back Casada with a vote of confidence or no confidence. That’s a process that’s important. The speaker himself has said that’s important.

Q: No matter what happens, you have the ability to call for a special session. Are you willing to make that call?

Lee: that’s premature. This meeting, and what happens in this meeting, will be important. And we’ll see what happens before we start any conversations beyond that.

Q: If they do pass no confidence, will you consider a special session?

Lee: It’s something to consider, but we’ll have to wait and what they do vote on first.

Q: Have you had contact with Casada since the scandal broke.

Lee: I haven’t. I haven’t spoken with him.

Q: Rep. Carter accused him of trying to rig the Ethics Committee report. Does that push you toward saying maybe he should step down.

Lee: I don’t know what took place in those Ethics Committee meetings. Like everything that has happened in the last few weeks, we just have to watch and see how the legislature weighs what’s happened, and their decision because of it.

Q: Would that be a reason to call a special session.

I think the legislature will determine, they will signal if they want a special session to consider that sort of thing. But again, it’s premature.

Q: If you were a House member how would you vote?

Lee: That’s a hypothetical question, I will leave that up to the House of Representatives.

Q: You’ve been careful with your words the last couple of weeks –

Lee: — There’s a reason I’m being very careful. Because there’s a separation between the executive branch to the legislative branch. It’s very important and there’s a reason for that. This is a decision the House of Representatives and that branch of government needs to make. So I’m intentional in recognizing that separation of government. IT’s important that it’s set up that way and it’s important that we carry it out that way.

Former Republican gubernatorial nominee joins Lee administration

Jim Bryson (handout photo)

Jim Bryson, a onetime Republican gubernatorial nominee, is joining Gov. Bill Lee’s administration.

Bryson was a state senator when he lost to then-Gov. Phil Bredesen in the 2006 governor’s race. He has been appointed deputy commissioner of parks and conservation at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. Bryson joins a fellow former state lawmaker Joe Carr as a deputy commissioner at the agency.

Here’s the full release from the Lee administration:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner David Salyers today announced the appointment of Jim Bryson as deputy commissioner of Parks and Conservation at TDEC.

“Jim’s experience in business, state government and community involvement, coupled with his passion for the outdoors, makes him uniquely qualified for this position,” Salyers said. “I look forward to working with Jim to make Tennessee State Parks the best run state park system in the nation.”

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McPeak to leave Lee administration

Gov. Bill Lee, bottom left, looks on as his Cabinet takes the oath of office in Nashville on Jan. 19, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Commerce and Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak has become the first member of Gov. Bill Lee’s Cabinet to step down.

McPeak, a holdover from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, is seeking unspecified “career opportunities in the private sector,” according to a release from the Lee administration.

McPeak is the past president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and the former executive director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance (TDCI) Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak announces today she is leaving Tennessee state government in order to pursue career opportunities in the private sector. Her last day as commissioner will be June 14, 2019. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has named TDCI Deputy Commissioner Carter Lawrence to serve as the Department’s Interim Commissioner until a permanent commissioner is selected. 

“We thank Julie Mix McPeak for her over eight years of service and her tireless commitment to her Department and to Tennessee. We wish her the best in her future endeavors,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Lee. “Carter Lawrence has ably served as Deputy Commissioner at the Department of Commerce and Insurance, and I look forward to serving alongside him as he steps into the role of Interim Commissioner.”

McPeak, who was first appointed commissioner by Governor Bill Haslam in 2011, is the immediate past president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), the U.S. standard-setting and regulatory support organization created and governed by the chief insurance regulators from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. The former executive director of the Kentucky Office of Insurance, McPeak is the first woman to serve as chief insurance regulator in more than one state.

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Lee and McNally weigh in on Casada text message scandal

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge), center, attends an economic development announcement in Nashville. At left is Gov. Bill Lee and on the far right is House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal).

Republican Gov. Bill Lee and Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) have issued statements on the text message scandal surrounding House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin).

Here’s what Lee had to say:

When we choose to enter public service, we have an obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard and cultivate an environment of professionalism and respect. We owe it to Tennesseans to ensure they know that all of us in elected office hold ourselves to that high standard. Recent revelations have shaken that faith, and we need to ensure that confidence is fully restored.

And here’s McNally:

Senate leadership and I are greatly disappointed by the inappropriate actions and attitudes revealed in recent news reports. Every person who interacts with the state legislature should be treated with the utmost respect. It is deeply troubling that some have fallen short of this standard. Tennesseans expect and deserve better from those who serve the public trust. Senate leadership is united in our commitment that members and staff continue to uphold the standard Tennesseans demand of their public officials.

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.”

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.