glen casada

The curious case of the Casada calls

Rep. Glen Casada. (Erik Schelzig/Tennessee Journal)

Former House Speaker Glen Casada says that contrary to what The Tennessee Journal has reported, the Franklin Republican is not supporting Rep. Andrew Farmer’s bid for House Majority Leader. He says he’s also not backing the current No. 2 Republican in the House, Rep. William Lamberth of Portland.

“Someone is bold face lying to you,” Casada said in a text message. “I am no in no way helping anyone in the upcoming caucus elections.”

The Journal had been inundated by claims that Casada is agitating behind the scenes on Farmer’s behalf. Exhibit A, the reasoning goes, is his business relationship with Farmer — they are partners in Red Door Title Services in Franklin. Not so, says Farmer, a Sevierville attorney who has other similar relationships with title businesses around the state. Farmer also says Casada told him he wouldn’t be supporting his leadership bid.

And yet the word spreading around the Capitol is that Casada may be looking to exact some revenge on Lamberth and then-Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville) for abandoning him when his speakership collapsed last year. Sexton later won election to Casada’s old job in the chamber.

Casada — who has been speaker, majority leader, and caucus chairman (twice) — has much experience when it comes to Republican leadership fights. He’s not always successful (he lost his first bid for the speaker’s nomination and only lasted a couple months after finally winning the top job), but other ambitious colleagues ignore his machinations at their peril.

So is Casada really staying out of the leadership race? In the end, it will probably come down to what the wily lawmaker sees as presenting the best possible outcome for Glen Casada.

Farmer challenging Lamberth for majority leader

Reps. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville), right, and Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) speak before a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Andrew Farmer (R-Sevierville) is challenging Rep. William Lamberth (R-Portland) for the position of House majority leader this fall, according to a letter to colleagues obtained by the The Tennessee Journal.

Farmer and Lamberth were two of four Republican attorneys first elected to the House in 2012 (the other two were Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah and disgraced former Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin). Farmer won the District 17 seat following Republican Rep. Frank Niceley’s election to the state Senate, while Lamberth was elected the District 44 seat vacated by the retirement of Rep. Mike McDonald (D-Portland).

Lamberth won the chamber’s No. 2 leadership position in November 2018 in the same caucus election that saw Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) nominated for what turned out to be a truncated speakership.

Here’s Farmer’s letter:

Dear Members,

As most of you know, I have been considering the opportunity to run for a caucus leadership position. Realizing the challenges of the upcoming session, I am ready to work with you to face those challenges to make a positive impact on our great state. After much prayer, deliberation and discussion with my wife and family, I have decided to announce my candidacy for House Majority Leader.

Our caucus benefits from a wide range of abilities, viewpoints and experiences among the members. As Majority Leader, I will work to help every member effectively represent their district. We all deserve to make a difference, and that is only accomplished when all of our voices are heard. We only reach our full potential when we recognize the wisdom of our constituents who put us here in the first place. After more than a decade as an attorney I have experienced the challenges that individuals, businesses, and families face. I have learned that listening and understanding their needs are always the first step in helping. By applying those same principles we can make the upcoming session both exciting and productive.

I appreciate the support that so many of you have already offered and I look forward to meeting individually with each one of you to discuss how we, together can reach new heights as a unified caucus. I am respectfully asking each of you for your support and vote.

Sincerely,

Andrew Farmer

Democrat Camper, Republican Hicks test positive for COVID-19

House Minority Leader Karen Camper (D-Memphis) and House Finance Subcommittee Chair Gary Hicks (R-Rogersville) have tested positive for COVID-19.

Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis) speaks tp reporters on Nov. 25, 2018, after her elected as House minority leader. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Camper felt ill during the start of last week’s special session, but an initial test did not detect the virus. She went home to Memphis as a precaution, where another test determined she had been infected. Camper is resting and recuperating at home, according to a statement from the House Democratic Caucus.

Hicks attended last week’s special session and was among several Republicans seen interacting with others without a mask. He works at Rogersville City School, which last week announced it would delay opening after two staffers tested positive for COVID-19 and while it awaited test results on a third.

The two positive tests follow the hospitalization this week of Rep. Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) due to COVID-19. Carter had skipped the special session along with former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin), who said he stayed home because had been exposed to the coronavirus. Casada wouldn’t tell The Tennessean whether he had tested positive, but said he had no symptoms and felt fine.

Rep. Kent Calfee (R-Kingston) tested positive for COVID-19 following the conclusion of the regular session in June, as did former Republican Rep. Kevin Brooks, the mayor of Cleveland, who was hospitalized with pneumonia on both lungs. Brooks had served as as the minister of the day for the final House floor session in June.

Winners and losers in the General Assembly’s fundraising sweepstakes

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The final fundraising disclosures are in before Thursday’s primary election. We’ve dug through the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance disclosures to aggregate how much each candidate for the House and Senate has raised so far through this election cycle.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) leads the way with $359,200, followed by freshman Rep. Bob Freeman (D-Nashville) with $290,700. Sen. Paul Rose (R-Covington) is next on the list with $226,500, though his numbers are a bit inflated by having stood for a special election during the cycle.

On the other end of the spectrum are incumbents who have raised the least. They are Reps. G.A. Hardaway (D-Memphis) with $2,900, Mike Carter (R-Ooltewah) with $3,900, and former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) with $6,450.

These totals are for candidates only, meaning they don’t include any of their political action committees.

A couple caveats about the way the Registry keeps these numbers: They include outside donations and direct contributions from the candidates themselves, but not loans. For example, while Rep. Rick Tillis’ challenger Todd Warner in District 92 is listed as raising $2,950, that figure doesn’t include the eye-popping $127,100 he has loaned himself. The figures also don’t include unitemized contributions, which for some candidates can be substantial.

So with all that being said, the full list follows. Challengers and candidates in open races are listed in italics.

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Casada to run for state House seat again in 2020

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) greets colleagues during a House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 14, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) the center of a scandal that brought down his House speakership last year, plans to run for his legislative seat again later this year.

Here’s what Casada said on his Facebook page:

After much prayer and consultation with family and friends, I have decided to run for re-election to the Tennessee House of Representatives. I am honored to serve as your voice in Nashville and remain committed to the conservative principles that make Tennessee the absolute best state in the nation. My promise is to continue fighting to help businesses grow and prosper, to be a proponent for lower taxes and less government, to ensure our constitutional rights are protected, and to always work to support the unborn. I humbly ask for your confidence, your support, and your vote in 2020.

Casada was at the helm of the House for all of 133 days before announcing he would resign amid a revolt among Republican colleagues over a text messaging scandal and his heavy-handed approach. He was the first House speaker to prematurely step down from the chamber’s top leadership post in 126 years.

Casada started the year with a combined $549,000 on hand in his campaign and political action committee  accounts— a daunting prospect for anyone who might seek to challenge him in the Republican. But Casada still has an audit pending by the Registry of Campaign Finance. The probe is expected to be completed next month and presented during the panel’s following meeting on March 11.

Casada considering bid for vacant whip position

Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin) greets colleagues during a House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 14, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A proposal to allow the House majority whip position to remain vacant for the rest of the year has been abandoned and the caucus now plans to hold a vote on Jan. 27. Speculation immediately turned to whether Rep. Glen Casada, who was driven from the House speakership last year, might jump in the race.

Casada (R-Franklin) tells The Tennessee Journal he hasn’t yet made up his mind. But it wouldn’t be the first time he’s made a leadership rebound. Casada was widely seen as the Republican favorite to be nominated speaker in 2010, not least because of the fierce opposition by then-ascendant tea party forces to Beth Harwell’s bid. But Casada ended up losing to Harwell (R-Nashville).

Instead of sending him into internal exile, Harwell decided to keep Casada in the fold by naming him chairman of the Health Committee. He received high marks in that role but was soon back to focusing on politics over policy after winning back his former post as House Republican Caucus chairman two years later. But Casada increasingly became a thorn in Harwell’s side in that role (and later as majority leader) by encouraging GOP colleagues to pursue hot-button bills as he began preparing for his own speaker’s bid.

The House majority whip’s main responsibility in election years is to oversee incumbents’ reelection efforts. The position is open because of the resignation of Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) amid a caucus fight over anonymous Twitter posts. The post has previously been held by the likes of Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) and former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin).

Sexton agenda as House speaker includes health care, sentencing, early childhood reading

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)

New Speaker Cameron Sexton gave a wide-ranging speech to the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce last week, outlining his agenda as he takes the reins of the Tennessee House of Representatives. The Crossville Republican took aim at health insurance companies for acting like “big brother” by blocking information about taxpayer-funded services and for having “absolute control over the marketplace.” He also called for stronger truth-in-sentencing laws, better funding for early childhood reading programs, and a long-term approach to spending Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reserves.

Sexton speech was in contrast to his predecessor, Glen Casada, who often appeared more driven by political considerations than political ones. Sexton also placed several stakes in the ground that could end up being at odds with the plans of Republican Gov. Bill Lee as he heads into his second session.

Here is a transcript of Sexton’s speech:

It’s great to be here this morning and see so many familiar faces as we look forward to what next week may bring. One of the question and I usually I get all the time is ‘When do you think we’re going to get out?’ I get 50 variations of the question because I usually won’t answer it, and they say, ‘Well, you know I’m planning and trip and it’s looking like this date.’ And my question back to them is: ‘well, is it refundable?’ We make no promises, but we’re hoping to have a very good session, a very productive session, and we’re hoping to announce in the coming couple days or week some processes and changes we’re making to hopefully make it more efficient and flow a little bit better.

I’d like to start out the day by saying, isn’t Tennessee doing great? The Tennessee Vols won the Gator Bowl and the Tennessee Titans beat the Patriots. And oh yeah, we have a pretty good economy in the state of Tennessee as well. But one of the things I have learned is it doesn’t really matter what’s going on, if the Tennessee Titans and Tennessee Vols are doing well, Tennessee is happy, so everything looks pretty good in the state and as long as we keep that going, we’re going to do very good. So everything looks like it’s settling in right into place four months into my speakership. Tennessee’s happy, so I’m happy.

But it’s an honor to be here today, and I very much appreciate this opportunity to speak with you. Back in 1994 – I know some of you know this and some you may not – I worked on my first political campaign after graduating from the University of Tennessee. It was a state Senate race and I worked for a great candidate, although have we ever really met anyone who says they hadn’t worked for a candidate – everybody’s candidate is great. But I can tell you this candidate was really, really good. And if you fast forward 26 years to today, I have this opportunity to lead the House, and I’m very fortunate to have this opportunity, but I do beside that very same state Senator I worked for in 1994, Lt. Governor Randy McNally, as he is preparing to lead the Senate, and I look forward to the partnership with him as we continue to move Tennessee forward.

We have been very fortunate as a state to have had many great leaders who have laid a solid foundation for us, and each one has passed the torch to the next person and everyone has taken it and continued to move. And now it’s is in our hands and we have to fill the purpose and the destiny that they helped us get to. 

But I don’t want to just hold serve, I don’t want to take a knee, and I sure don’t want to run out the clock. I believe we are tasked to accept it and make it shine brighter for all Tennesseans. Because isn’t that what America’s greatest generation did for us many years ago when they sacrificed and made things better for us?

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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.