Monthly Archives: May 2019

Gant: ‘We can all recognize the severity of what is happening’

House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) checks his phone in the House chamber in Nashville on March 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican Rep. Ron Gant, the assistant House majority leader, is issuing a call for a caucus meeting to discuss the fallout from the text messaging scandal enveloping Glen Casada’s speakership.

“With all the vitriol playing out before our eyes; personally, I find myself thinking that if this is what public service has come to then I may want to serve the community that I love in another way,” wrote Gant.

It’s unclear whether Gant’s call for a caucus meeting differs from once sought by Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville), which the latter has described as involving a “vote of confidence” for the speaker.

Here’s the full statement from Gant (formatted for clarity):

I believe in our government and I believe in the people of our great state, but my heart has been heavy over the last couple of weeks. With all the vitriol playing out before our eyes; personally, I find myself thinking that if this is what public service has come to then I may want to serve the community that I love in another way. It’s no wonder why good people don’t want to serve in politics with all the viciousness and hatred towards one another that takes place.

I believe we all can recognize the severity of what is happening. We are all looking for direction and understanding at this time. Therefore, as the Assistant Majority Leader I’m calling for a caucus meeting within the coming days. I want to thank those who have reached out to me personally over the last few days, I value your input greatly.

After much thought and prayer; along with hearing from my district and various fellow house members, I feel it is imperative that we meet as a caucus and seek a direction as members of the Tennessee House of Representatives. I would encourage us to consider the counsel of Micah “He has shown you, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

I ask that we each pray and seek our Heavenly Father for His wisdom and direction as we move forward.

 

Is this what Casada meant by ‘nothing else?’

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

Seeking to shore up support among the Republican caucus last week, House Speaker Glen Casada assured colleagues “there’s nothing else to come out” in the text message scandal that threatens to topple him from the chamber’s top leadership position.

But new revelations emerged on Monday, as WTVF’s Phil Williams reported that Casada and his now former chief of staff exchanged text messages about whether two young women were at the legal age of consent.

Cade Cothren, then the House GOP press secretary, sent a text to Casada in August 2016 featuring a vide of two women dancing in his apartment.

“R they 21?” wrote Casada, then the House Republican Caucus chairman.

“It only takes 18,” responded Cothren, who was named Casada’s chief of staff after his election as speaker in January.

Casada’s answer: “Lol!!! And true!”

Cothren resigned last week after WTVF and The Tennessean reported he had sent racist and lewd texts. Casada said he never saw racist texts and apologized for “locker room talk” regarding women.

In one exchange, Cothren described a woman pictured upside down next to a pole as “wife material,” and Casada responded: “Can I just touch?” Cothren answered: “Maybe just once.”

In another exchange, Cothren texted Casada about a supposed sexual encounter with a woman in the bathroom at the Party Fowl restaurant, adding he’d send pictures later.

Casada remarked his aide had only been “gone for 60 seconds,” adding, “R u a minute man?” Cothren answered that he takes after Casada.

“Like father, like son,” he wrote to the speaker.

Cothren in other text messages solicited oral sex and nude photos from an intern and made sexual advances toward a female lobbyist.

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) became the seventh Republican to call to Casada to step aside as speaker. The Tennessee black caucus also voted to call for Casada to resign as the chamber’s leader after a marathon meeting on Monday.

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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Rep. Weaver calls for Casada’s resignation as speaker

Add Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver (R-Lancaster) to the list of lawmakers calling for Glen Casada to step down as House speaker.

“The choices made by these people – including the Speaker – should have consequences,” The Hartsville Vidette quoted her as saying. “That teaches a lesson to everyone.”

“If one’s going to step up to a place of authority – mayor, county commissioner – there is a level of representation you’ve got to bring to the table,” she said. “Bad choices bring bad consequences and bad consequences have victims. Good choices make good things happen.”

State Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver says House Speaker should resign

That brings the list of Republicans calling for Casada to step aside to seven. The other are:

  • Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn of Knoxville.
  • Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville.
  • Rep. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain.
  • Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby.
  • Majority Whip Rick Tillis of Lewisburg.
  • Rep. Sam Whitson of Franklin.

Meanwhile, Casada was spotted at the Iroquois Steeplechase race in Nashville over the weekend with fellow Republican lawmakers and lobbyists, per the Nashville Scene’s Stephen Elliott.

Also, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Johnson City) said Casada should step aside.

“I think it’s a distraction for our state” Roe told WCYB-TV. “We’re doing wonderful in the state of Tennessee and I think probably he needs to think about removing that distraction.”

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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Casada gives update of his ‘action plan’

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 hs released a statement about his efforts to manage the crisis facing his office over lewd and racist text messages  The Franklin Republican says he wants more “actual facts” to become known by members of his caucus.

Heres the full statement:

As we move into the weekend, I wanted to share a quick update on the immediate steps we are taking to follow up on the Action Plan released earlier this week to address recent issues and concerns.

Today I submitted a letter to the Chairman of the House Ethics Committee requesting that they issue an advisory opinion concerning my actions taken relative to the resignation of my former Chief of Staff. I welcome feedback from this bipartisan committee.

I have learned that a special prosecutor has been appointed by the District Attorney Generals’ Conference to begin investigating the email from Mr. Justin Jones that was forwarded by my former Chief of Staff to the local District Attorney. My desire is for this independent review to be completed as quickly and thoroughly as possible and for all of the facts to come out. To that end, I have instructed the Speaker’s office and the joint Legislative Information Services staff to fully and immediately comply with all requests for information related to that email made by the special prosecutor.

Finally, I support the call by some of my Republican members for an upcoming GOP Caucus meeting to continue to hear and address lingering concerns. I am confident the more my colleagues have actual facts before them the better.

We will continue to update you as we implement our Action Plan to bring clarity and transparency to this process, to reestablish trust where it has been broken, and to return to the people’s business.

Tennessee’s No. 2 Republican says Casada should step down

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally says House Speaker Glen Casada should step down over the text messaging scandal that has enveloped his office.

Here is the Oak Ridge Republican’s full statement:

It has been my goal over the past few days to allow the House of Representatives to address the issues they are facing without distraction. I am very aware that any comments from the other chamber can be counterproductive to their ongoing process. Questions of resignation or removal remain up to Speaker Casada and the House alone. I would expect any removal process to include due process. When asked my personal opinion on the matter, I can only answer honestly. I believe it would be in the best interest of the legislature and the state of Tennessee for Speaker Casada to vacate his office at this time.

What scandal? GOP news clips ignore Casada saga

House Speaker Glen Casada speaks to fellow Republicans in a caucus meeting on Jan. 10, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

If you were to rely on the state Republican Party’s media clips, you’d have no idea about that scandal that has rocked the Statehouse this week.

While House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) desperately tries to cling on to his leadership post following the resignation of his chief of staff for lewd, racist, and drug-fueled text messages, here are the stories the GOP has sent around this week:

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Feds charge intelligence analyst with leaking classified material

A Nashville man has been arrested on charges of illegally obtaining classified information and passing it along to a reporter.

Daniel Everette Hale was arrested Thursday morning and was scheduled to appear in federal court in Nashville later in the day. Hale was enlisted in the Air Force between 2009 and 2013, assigned to the National Security Agency and deployed to Afghanistan. After leaving active duty, he was employed by a defense contractor. Prosecutors allege Hale passed along confidential  material to a reporter whose outlet published at least 11 documents market secret or top secret.

Here’s the full release from the Justice Department:

WASHINGTON – An indictment was unsealed today charging a former intelligence analyst with illegally obtaining classified national defense information and disclosing it to a reporter.  Daniel Everette Hale, 31, of Nashville, Tennessee, was arrested this morning and will make his initial appearance today at the federal courthouse in Nashville.  Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger for the Eastern District of Virginia and Acting Special Agent in Charge Jennifer L. Moore of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office made the announcement after the charges were unsealed. 

According to the indictment, Hale was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force from July 2009 to July 2013, during which time he received language and intelligence training.  While serving on active duty, Hale was assigned to work at the National Security Agency (NSA) and deployed to Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst.  After leaving the U.S. Air Force, Hale was employed by a defense contractor and assigned to the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), where he worked as a political geography analyst between December 2013 and August 2014.  In connection with his active duty service and work for the NSA, and during his time at NGA, Hale held a Top Secret//Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS//SCI) security clearance and was entrusted with access to classified national defense information.

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Casada releases ‘action plan … to prevent future missteps’

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

Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) has released a statement about his plans for responding to the text messaging scandal that has enveloped his office:

I take complete ownership over the text messages with inappropriate comments about women that I exchanged with my former Chief of Staff and another individual several years ago. It’s embarrassing and humbling to have it displayed in this manner. I apologize and hope that my friends, family, colleagues, and constituents find a way to forgive me for it because it is not the person I am and it hasn’t been the way I have conducted myself as Speaker.

I’d also like to take the time to express my sincere disappointment for the myriad of other messages between my former Chief of Staff and another individual that have surfaced which included racial slurs, drug use, and various other inappropriate comments. I condemn them in their entirety and I do not tolerate that type of behavior as an elected official or as a human being.

Moving forward, I have put together an action plan to be executed by members of my staff, members of the House Ethics Committee, and the joint legislative offices that seeks to provide clarity to what has transpired, as well as ensure that I am doing everything within my power to prevent future missteps. I look forward to executing this plan as I work towards establishing trust where it has been broken and ensuring that the House is more ready than ever to conduct the people’s business.

 

Here’s the “Action Plan”

  • Speaker Casada has written today to the TBI and to the District Attorney Generals’ Conference asking them to investigate, as expeditiously as possible, the email from Mr. Justin Jones that was forwarded by former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren to the District Attorney’s office. The TBI and the District Attorney will have the full cooperation of the Speaker’s office, the House of Representatives, and Legislative Information Services. Although we are confident that the email was not forged, an independent investigation is welcomed.
  • The House Ethics Committee has been asked by Speaker Casada to meet to review the termination of former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren. In addition, the committee with the assistance of Connie Ridley, Director of Legislative Administration, is being asked to review our personnel policies and to investigate the possibility of drug testing for new They will look at the implications of implementing this policy. In addition, the Ethics Committee will be consulting with members and staff on how we can improve our policies and training for members and staff regarding our policies.
  • The Speaker’s office along with Legislative Administration is reviewing our current operations for any existing violations of the legislature’s personnel policies. If any violations are found, they will be addressed
  • The Speaker’s office met with the Black Caucus, and Speaker Casada is in the process of scheduling a meeting with them to express his apologies for the racist texts sent by former Chief of Staff, Cade Cothren. The Black Caucus will be working with the Speaker’s office and other members and staff to create appropriate diversity training for members and