glen casada

Casada ‘doubles down’ on grant pool criticized as pork

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) speaks to fellow Republicans about his bid for House speaker on Nov. 20, 2018.. He was later nominated for the position by 47 of 73 members. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Glen Casada says it is a “slap in the face” of Tennesseans to criticize a grant pool that some fellow lawmakers have called pork barrel spending.

As first reported by The Tennessean, the dispute began over a recent announcement by Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) that Isaiah 117 House, a ministry that helps foster children, would receive an extra $75,000 from the state to open another location. That came as news to other area lawmakers, who said no such money had been earmarked.

Hill said the money came out of a $4 million pool approved by lawmakers at the end of this year’s legislative session. But asked about the grants at an event in Sneedville, Gov. Bill Lee said the money won’t be spent until the next budget year.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally’s office issued a statement saying the Oak Ridge Republican opposes the use of state money for “legislative pork projects.” Sexton, a Crossville Republican who took over as speaker in August, called the lack of information about grant pool “troubling.”

Casada sent out a statement Tuesday, calling for the administration to lift the hold on the grant funding. Here’s his full statement:

Former House Speaker Glen Casada (R–Franklin) today called for the immediate release of $4 million in grant funding that was included in the 2019-2020 budget approved earlier this year by the Tennessee legislature. The funds, which were backed unanimously by both the House and Senate, were recently put on hold after questions were raised by a small number of lawmakers about how the grant dollars made their way into the budget.

However, despite these questions recently posed in the press, Casada defended the funds, noting the countless discussions between House leadership, Finance Committee members, and the entire legislative body as the budget made its way through the committee process before receiving final approval by every member of the House and Senate and being signed into law by Governor Lee.

Specifically, the grant funds approved by the legislature were documented in the budget for the sole purpose of making rural and community grants for capital projects, repairs, maintenance, and operations to local governments and non-profit public safety, library, community, and recreational service organizations.

“I am not distancing myself from this grant funding in any way,” said Casada. “I believe passionately what we did was good and will benefit countless districts across the state who have fallen behind with local repairs and upgrades over the years. The process for communities to obtain this funding is completely open and transparent and the funds are designed to enhance our local communities and to be used for the benefit of all citizens.”

Regarding claims that some legislators were unaware of these grant dollars being included in this year’s budget, Casada doubled down on his stance that this funding will help Tennesseans across the state.

“This grant fund was documented and addressed with all of the other budget items discussed this year in committees and in meetings. Leadership supported it. House and Senate members alike supported it. Implying something was done improperly in the creation of this grant fund is a direct slap in the face of the very Tennesseans who need it most and each community this funding is intended to help.”

Report: Feds and TBI involved in probe of voucher vote

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) speaks with House Finance Chair Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) in the House chamber on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Despite the housecleaning that has taken place in the lower chamber of the General Assembly, state and federal officials are still looking into allegations that former Speaker Glen Casada offered inducements to lawmakers in exchange for supporting controversial voucher legislation, The Daily Memphian’s Sam Stockard reports.

The publication confirmed that agents with the FBI and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation have spoken to lawmakers about allegations that Casada and his staff about made promises as part of an effort to break a 49-49 vote on the bill in May. Casada kept the board open for more than 40 minutes to try to make the case to various lawmakers, including on the balcony outside the House chamber.

Casada has denied any wrongdoing, calling allegations of inducements “unequivocally false.”

State Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) said the move to keep the board open  set a bad precedent for close votes.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens because it was certainly improper and one of the things Glen did that unraveled his speakership,” Coley said.

Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis, the chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators, is preparing a letter to TBI Director David Rausch requesting an investigation into potential “public corruption,” in connection with the voucher vote.

One area of widespread speculation is whether Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), who recently became a full colonel in the Tennessee National Guard, was offered a promotion to general if he switched his vote to favor the voucher bill.

Windle has confirmed a conversation took place in which Casada suggested he could be made a general if he supported the bill. But he remained in the ‘no’ column.

“I voted no on the bill as a matter of principle, and that vote decision did not change. The people of Fentress, Jackson, Morgan and Overton counties are fiercely independent, and their vote is not for sale,” Windle said in a statement after the allegations were first made public. “After the vote, as a former prosecutor, I sought the guidance of Tennessee ethics authorities and followed their recommendations.”

Faison wins 4-way race for House GOP Caucus chair

Rep. Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) speaks to colleagues after being elected House Republican Caucus chair in Nashville on Aug. 22, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby has been elected chair of the House Republican Caucus. The position was vacated by the nomination of Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) as House speaker.

Faison defeated Rep. Michael Curcio of Dickson in the final ballot on a 40-31 vote. Rep. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain was eliminated in the second round and Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station failed to clear the first round.

Faison is known for his bombastic persona and his vocal support for legalizing medical marijuana. He has shown an uncanny ability to count votes within the caucus. His prediction for his caucus chair victory was within one vote, and he was almost as close in his count going into the caucus meeting to declare lost confidence in former Speaker Glen Casada in May.

Can Curcio counter curse of ‘last supper’ photo?

House Judiciary Chairman Michael Curcio of Dickson is a leading contender for the vacant No. 3 Republican leadership position in the chamber. But if he wins it would be against a trend of a house cleaning among erstwhile allies of former Speaker Glen Casada.

A photo of Casada’s lieutenants celebrating in a Nashville steakhouse after the Franklin Republican’s nomination as speaker last November has become a symbol of the hubris of the moment. Four of those pictured no longer hold their positions — most notably Casada himself, who became the first Tennessee House speaker in 126 years not to serve out his full term. Another, Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough, came in third in the vote to succeed him (his brother and childhood friend, Reps. Timothy Hill and Micah Van Huss, are also pictured).

Former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren, whose text message exchanges with the speaker kicked the lid off the scandal that ultimately toppled Casada, is seated at the head of the table. Former aides Shawn Hatmaker (the reputed “hall monitor”) and Michael Lotfi (whose no-show job rankled members) are also pictured.

And on the bottom right sits Curcio, who supporters of Rep. Curtis Johnson’s rival bid for speaker believed was in his camp until they saw this photo after the election. Casada later named Curcio chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Curcio was a vocal supporter of the rule changes pushed through by the new speaker aimed at limiting dissent within the chamber.

Rep. Michael Curio (R-Dickson) checks his phone during a House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Curcio is a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss), Americans for Prosperity, and the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington.

The other candidates for caucus chair are Reps. Jeremy Faison of Cosby,  Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain, and Jerry Sexton of Bean Station. The caucus election is scheduled for Thursday.

Cagle: Casada downfall a reminder that lawmakers don’t work for governor

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

Frank Cagle, the former Knoxville News Sentinel managing editor and spokesman for Republican Van Hilleary’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, says there’s a clear lesson for lawmakers in the implosion of Rep. Glen Casada’s speakership:

Anybody who thinks about going all-in for the governor instead of listening to the folks back home needs to remember Casada. Perhaps it’s good for Casada to hang around in the House as a walking object lesson. If you sold your soul on the voucher vote because Casada offered you incentives, where are your incentives now?

Cagle had his own run-in with the forces of Casada this year. A day after he wrote a Knox TN Today column blasting the voucher bill, his nomination to the state Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission was killed in the House. Eight weeks later, the voucher bill had been signed into law, Casada was on his way out, and Cagle was back on the textbook panel as a recess appointment by Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-
Oak Ridge).

Read Cagle’s full column here:

The Casada Lesson: You don’t work for the governor

Dunn takes over as temporary House speaker

House Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) presents school voucher legislation on May 1, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With Glen Casada’s resignation fro the House speakership Friday, Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) takes over until a special session to vote on a new speaker.

Here’s a release from the House Republican Caucus:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Representative Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) today in his role as Speaker Pro Tem will begin carrying out the duties of the House Speaker, including calling the August 23rd Extraordinary Session to order and presiding over the election of the next Speaker.

“Today marks the beginning of a new chapter for the House of Representatives,” said Speaker Pro Tem Dunn. “I am eager to move forward so that we can continue to serve our communities and make Tennessee the best state to raise a family, work, and retire.”

Upon Speaker Pro Tem Dunn acceding to the speaker’s role, Republican Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) stated, “I have always admired Bill Dunn’s commitment to public service, and I know he will provide a steady hand in the Speaker’s office. I look forward to working with him during this upcoming special session as we transition to new leadership under Speaker Select Cameron Sexton.”

Speaker Dunn has served in the General Assembly since 1994. He is currently the longest-serving House Republican member.

Sexton retains Gilmer as chief of staff

Scott Gilmer

Cameron Sexton, the Republican nominee to succeed Glen Casada as House speaker next month, has named Scott Gilmer as his chief of staff.

Sexton (R-Crossville) said Gilmer represents his goals of “stability, policy, and consistency” as head of the chamber. Gilmer was former Speaker Beth Harwell’s chief of staff. He was also a top adviser to Casada.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Speaker Select Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) announced today that Scott Gilmer would serve as his Chief of Staff if he were to be elected Speaker of the House during the special session in August.

“My vision as Speaker of the House of Representative is stability, policy, and consistency, and Scott Gilmer exemplifies those three categories,” said Republican Speaker Select Sexton. “Scott’s experience and institutional knowledge will provide a steady hand and a smooth transition as we move forward and continue to build upon our successes.”

Scott Gilmer has served in the General Assembly for over ten years, seven of which has been in the Chief of Staff role for previous speakers.

Upon accepting the position, Gilmer stated, “I thank Speaker Select Sexton for this opportunity, and I look forward to continuing to serve the great people of Tennessee.”

Sexton prevails in House GOP caucus vote for speaker

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville has won the Republican nomination for House Speaker. He prevailed after four rounds of voting on Wednesday.

In the final round of balloting, Sexton won 41 of 70 votes over Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville). Matthew Hill of Jonesborough was eliminated in the third round and Mike Carter of Ooltewah and Ryan Williams of Cookeville were dropped after the second round. Jay Reedy of Erin failed to clear the first round of voting.

Sexton pledged not to rehire anyone who had left the employment of the House during the Rep. Glen Casada’s time as speaker. He added that others may not be retained going forward. Casada is scheduled to resign on Aug. 2.

Here’s how the voting played out:

Round 1 Round 2  Round 3 Round 4
Sexton  18 17 27 41
Johnson 16 19 23 29
Hill 16 16 20
Carter 11 9
Williams 8 9
Reedy 1

Casada denies he offered inducements for voucher votes

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) speaks with House Finance Chair Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) in the House chamber on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Glen Casada, who is resigning next week following the loss of a no-confidence vote, has put out an unusual statement to deny that he offered infrastructure funding or a National Guard promotion in exchange for a positive vote on the controversial school voucher bill.

Democratic state Rep. John Mark Windle of Livingston, who voted against the voucher legislation, confirmed to WTVF-TV that Casada had suggested he might be promoted from a colonel in the Guard if he changed his vote.

“In response to your question, your characterization of the conversation is correct,” Windle said in a statement to WTVF.

“I voted against the bill as a matter of principle, and that vote decision did not change. The people of Fentress, Jackson, Morgan, and Overton counties are fiercely independent, and their vote is not for sale.”

Republican Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster, who also opposed the bill, said Casada suggested a new Interstate interchange at the Carthage-Gordonsville exit might be on the table.

“My reply was, ‘You know that’s bogus. You know you can’t do that,” Weaver told the station.

And Rep. Bob Ramsey (R-Maryville) said Casada’s team hinted there might be funding for a jail expansion in his district if he voted for the bill. He refused.

 

10 most read TNJ posts of the year (so far)

A breakdown of the attendees at a closed-door meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos was the most read post on the TNJ: On the Hill blog in the first half of 2019.

Inspired — as always — by our friends at the Nashville Post, here are the 10 most read posts on the the TNJ: On the Hill blog through the first half of the year: