glen casada

New TNJ edition alert: Casada crashes out in WillCo, Carr breaks losing streak, and skulduggery gone wrong

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)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Embattled Casada crashes out of Williamson County clerk’s race.

— Election roundup: Carr breaks losing streak, Wamps win, Griffey claims judgeship.

— From the campaign trail: GOP wants judge to toss out Starbuck lawsuit over 5th District ouster, maps show former Shelby GOP chair doesn’t live in Shelby, and skulduggery gone wrong.

— Obituaries: The man who could have denied Gore’s first political office and the “Marryin’ Squire.”

Also: Alito cancels Nashville appearance after draft Roe v. Wade reversal leaked, Lee announces a Cabinet shakeup, and acoustic problems at a GOP fundraiser in the state’s largest county.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Casada campaign literature hits mailboxes in Williamson County

Early voting for primaries in local races is nine days away, so voters’ mailboxes are getting inundated with campaign literature. In Williamson County, that includes a glossy item from state Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), who is running for clerk.

Needless to say, the mailer makes no mention of Casada’s spectacular fall from the House speakership in 2019, or the ongoing federal probe into a shadowy mail vendor. Former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) in her recent guilty plea said she, Casada, and his onetime chief of staff Cade Cothren were secretly involved in establishing and promoting a company called Phoenix Solutions that landed business from the General Assembly and lawmakers.

Casada’s mailer features photos of his children and grandchildren. He touts his membership in the Brentwood Baptist Church and says he “started two successful small businesses.”

We assume the latter isn’t referring to Phoenix Solutions.

Brandon Ogles won’t seek third term in state House

Rep. Brandon Ogles attends a House floor session in Nashville on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Brandon Ogles says he won’t seek a third term in the Tennessee House.

The Franklin Republican was elected in 2018 on a platform that included opposing school vouchers. But upon arriving at the Capitol, Ogles became a key ally to then-House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his chief of staff, Cade Cothren, and voted for the voucher measure in a controversial 50-48 floor vote in 2019.

Casada and Cothren have been implicated by former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) of participating with her in a scheme to drive business to shadowy campaign vendor called Phoenix Solutions, which they allegedly controlled. Ogles has not been named as part of the investigation, but he has been a vocal defender of Casada, speaking out at a Williamson County chamber of commerce event recently against a Registry of Election Finance subpoena issued for the former speaker and other current and former lawmakers to testify about another mystery political action committee involved in defeating Republican Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg). The Registry has since referred its probe to prosecutors in Williamson County.

Ogles missed about four weeks of last year’s session with what he said was a severe case of COVID-19. The lawmaker says he will work as advocate for victims of violent crimes.

Here is Ogles’ Facebook statement on his retirement:

New TNJ alert: Here come the subpoenas, slammed doors, and divining rods

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The new edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it:

— It’s subpoena time in the federal probe that ensnared ex-Rep. Robin Smith. At least three lawmakers and a legislative staffer are set to appear before the grand jury next week.

— Lee’s budget amendment signals the end is near for this year’s legislative session.

— Legislative roundup: Terri Lynn Weaver slams the door after failing to get a second, Indian gaming proposal stalls, the legislature grabs the authority to name six of nine members of the state Board of Education, and it won’t get any easier for minor parties to get on the ballot.

— Andy Ogles jumps into 5th Congressional District race, but his campaign infrastructure has yet to catch up.

Also: Jason Hodges welcomes the FBI to the Capitol, indicted Sen. Brian Kelsey honored as a “public-spirited citizen of the highest order,” Tennessee could grow by 1 million residents in next 20 years, and the state GOP asks for cash for a new computer.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

House members subpoenaed in federal probe of shadowy vendor

Cade Cothren, speaking on phone, attends a meeting with lawmakers and fellow staffers on the balcony ouside the House chamber on April 29, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tenenssee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) is among lawmakers subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury about a shadowy campaign vendor linked to former Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren.

“We have been fully cooperating with the federal authorities since I became speaker in 2019,” Sexton said in a statement. “It is not unexpected that I and other members would be called to appear before a grand jury to provide factual statements as part of this ongoing investigation.”

The subpoenas, which were first reported by WTVF-TV’s Phil Williams, follow a guilty plea by former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) earlier this month in which she admitted participating in a scheme to hide who was behind the vendor called Phoenix Solutions. The charging document makes thinly veiled references to Casada and Cothren being the other participants.

Smith has agreed to cooperate with the ongoing investigation as part of her plea agreement.

New TNJ alert: Will lawmaker’s guilty plea spur ethics overhaul?

Reps. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) and Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) are sworn into the 112th General Assembly on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In this week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— It took months after the Tennessee Waltz bribery sting to overhaul ethics laws. Will latest scandal prompt quicker response?

— Legislative roundup: Residency requirements, AG confirmation, pipeline priority, and Confederate artifacts.

— From the campaign trail: Hargett’s chief of staff leaving to run Lee re-elect, Curcio hanging ‘em up.

— Obituaries: Former Shelby County sheriff and a perennial candidate.

Also: Lee isn’t sold on gas tax moratorium, Nashville DA finds no evidence former vax chief sent muzzle to herself, Curcio calls investigative reporter a “silly person,” and liquor store owners complain of getting hammered.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Report: Calfee says he heard Casada offer generalship during voucher impasse

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

Rep. Kent Calfee tells the Tennessee Lookout’s Sam Stockard he heard then-House Speaker Glen Casada propose a generalship to Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle in return for backing a controversial school voucher proposal in 2019.

With a vote knotted at 49-49 in 2019, Casada infamously kept the board open for 45 minutes to try to persuade someone to switch their position and keep first-year Gov. Bill Lee’s signature bill from an embarrassing defeat.

Calfee (R-Kingston) said he was standing on the balcony outside the House chamber when he heard Casada (R-Franklin) make the pitch to Windle, a Livingston Democrat who is a colonel in the Tennessee National Guard.

“I heard Casada say, ‘I can’t promote you, but the governor can. I’ll call the governor,’” Calfee told the Lookout.

“Now, the governor and I have discussed that, because he also, he called me up to the office,” Calfee recounted. “He said, ‘You know, you’re kind of talking bad about me.’ I said I told the truth.”

Lee was asked by reporters this week about the alleged offer of a generalship to Windle. He said he didn’t know anything about it.

Windle didn’t change his opposition to the voucher bill. But the measure passed after Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) agreed to flip in favor of the bill after being assured his home county would be exempted from the measure.

Read Stockard’s full report here.

Registry refers Casada, Cothren probes to Williamson County prosecutor

Registry member Tom Lawless and then-Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) confer on the House floor before Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance is referring its investigations into former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren, to Williamson County prosecutors.

The move comes after former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) pleaded guilty last week to a federal wire fraud charge over the creation of a front company called Phoenix Solutions, which obtained contracts to design, print, and send political mailers on behalf of Republican lawmakers.

Smith’s charging document made thinly-veiled references to Casada and Cothren, alleging they were heavily involved in the scheme.

The motion by Registry member Tom Lawless also sends prosecutors the case of the Faith Family Freedom Fund. The PAC’s treasurer testified to the panel in January that she had founded it at the behest of Cothren and had no further role in its activities. The outfit proceeded to lob attacks at then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in his unsuccessful re-election bid in 2020.

Registry member Tom Lawless made the motion to involve Williamson County prosecutors, arguing it would be the appropriate venue because it covers Casada home area. He also raised concerns the issue could be “weaponized” amid a contested Democratic primary for Nashville district attorney. It’s unclear whether Williamson County DA Kim Helper will recuse herself from the case.

Grip and grin: News photo shows figures at center of federal investigation

An August 31, 2021, photo in the Elk Valley Times shows Cade Cothren, the disgraced former chief of staff to then-House Speaker Glen Casada, at a ribbon cutting for a new location of his family’s Highway 55 restaurant chain in Fayetteville. Cothren is joined by Rep. Todd Warner (R-Lewisburg) and Ava Korby, the daughter of suspended legislative staffer Nadine Korby.

Cothren, Warner, Casada, and the elder Korby were among the subjects of FBI searches in January 2021. So was Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), who pleaded guilty this week to a federal wire fraud charge over the creation of a front company called Phoenix Solutions, which obtained contracts to design, print, and send political mailers on behalf of Republican lawmakers.

According to the charging document, Cothren posed as a man calling himself Matthew Phoenix. He and an unnamed girlfriend calling herself “Candice” allegedly corresponded on the company’s behalf. A source with knowledge of the investigation tells The Tennessee Journal the girlfriend in question was Ava Korby.

Sydney Friedopfer, another woman once romantically involved with Cothren, testified to the Registry of Election Finance in January that she had created a PAC called the Faith Family Freedom Fund on his behalf. She told the panel she didn’t know anything about the group’s subsequent attacks on then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in his primary campaign against Warner.

Warner spent $75,500 on a vendor called Dixieland Strategies of Rainbow City, Ala., which had never before done work in Tenenssee and didn’t appear to be registered as a business. Warner told reporters later he couldn’t remember whom he had dealt with at the outfit. Rainbow raised eyebrows in the Tillis race for using the same postal code out of Chattanooga as Phoenix Solutions and the Faith Family Freedom Fund. Another campaign vendor told reporters that Cothren had commissioned him to do work that was billed to both the FFFF and Phoenix Solutions.

No one other than Smith has been charged so far.

Whoever signed this Phoenix Solutions document has some explaining to do

Phoenix Solutions W-9 form filed with the Tennessee General Assembly.

According to federal prosecutors, Matthew Phoenix, the purported proprietor of political vendor Phoenix Solutions, was not a real person. They say it was actually Cade Cothren, a onetime chief of staff to then-House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin). Cothren allegedly posed as Matthew Phoenix because he knew the company wouldn’t otherwise get approval to do work on taxpayer-funded constituent mailers from the General Assembly.

Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) is scheduled to strike a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in federal court on Tuesday afternoon. Smith, who resigned from the House on Monday, was aware of Cothren was posing as Phoenix, according to the charging document.

An IRS W-9 form submitted to the General Assembly in January 2020 carries the signature of Matthew Phoenix, right under a section outlining the certification is made “under penalties of perjury” that the person singing the document is a “U.S. person.”