Following a no-confidence delivered by the Republican caucus of the Tennessee House of Representatives yesterday, Speaker Glen Casada has announced he will no longer serve as the the lower-chamber’s top legislative officer.

Casada, R-Franklin, issued a statement Tuesday saying he wants to “facilitate a smooth transition” to a new speaker.

Gov. Bill Lee, who said Monday night he’d be willing to call a special session of the House in order to remove the scandal-beset speaker, lauded Casada’s announcement.

“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,” the Republican governor tweeted.

The Tennessee Senate’s speaker, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, also applauded Casada’s move. McNally had been among those suggesting Casada should step aside in wake of a scandal involving the House speaker’s former chief of staff.

McNally, a Republican from Oak Ridge, wrote on Twitter: “Speaker Casada announcing his intent to resign is the right decision for the legislature, the @TNGOP and the state. 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.”

On Monday, Republican lawmakers gathered in Nashville to vote on whether Glen Casada, the politically besieged GOP speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, retains enough support to continue on in his role as the the chamber’s presiding officer.

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin

The results went markedly against the Williamson County Republican, who was elected to serve as speaker just this year.

On a 45-22 vote, the House Republican Caucus delivered a no-confidence motion, signaling that faith in Casada’s ability to effectively run the legislative body is critically in doubt.

The outcome of the vote was seen as something of a surprise, given that only a handful of the 73-member House Republican Caucus had previously given any public indication that they want to see Speaker Casada step down or be removed in wake of revelations that one of his former staffers sent racially disparaging and sexually explicit text messages in years past, in addition to boasting about using illegal drugs.

Some of the electronic private messages at issue were received by Casada himself, who apparently made no effort to reprimand or take disciplinary action against the employee — and later promoted him to chief of staff after Rep. Casada was elected speaker.

Monday’s vote appeared to mark a dramatic shift in Casada’s political fortunes — with some of the state’s most powerful and prominent GOP politicians and operatives now pushing for his removal as speaker.

“The vote of no confidence by the Republican caucus sends a clear message; it is time for the Speaker to heed the advice of the majority of his fellow legislators and step down from his position of leadership and allow someone else to begin the process of restoring the trust of all Tennesseans,” Republican Party state chairman Scott Golden said in a statement Monday.

Also on Monday, Governor Bill Lee said he’d be open to calling a special session of the House of Representatives to strip Casada of his leadership post if the embattled speaker refuses to go voluntarily.

House Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, has joined calls for Casada to step aside as well.

“Regardless of how long ago, regardless of what the behavior is, we take this type of allegation very, very seriously,” Lamberth told reporters following the vote. “And I think that has been stated very clearly by this caucus today.

Republicans in both the Tennessee House and Senate enjoy supermajority control of their respective chambers, meaning their voting bloc is large enough to set agendas and conduct business irrespective of the wishes of Democrats, who enjoy little popularity and support outside the state’s major urban areas.

House Democrats have been calling for Casada’s removal since the scandal broke earlier this month.

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, May 13, 2019:

Link: https://www.tn.gov/commerce/news/2019/5/13/tdci-commissioner-mcpeak-announces-departure-for-private-sector.html

TDCI Commissioner McPeak Announces Departure for Private Sector; Governor Bill Lee Names Deputy Commissioner Carter Lawrence as Interim Commissioner

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.

“Tennessee is a special place, and it has been a distinct privilege and honor to have served the Volunteer State,” McPeak said. “It’s been an amazing journey. At the end of the day, I’m enormously proud of our accomplishments on behalf of Tennesseans. I believe the Department has helped play a role in transforming Tennessee into a national and international destination for families and businesses. I am excited about the next chapter of my life and my career in Nashville – and I’m equally excited about what’s in store for Tennessee.”

Under McPeak’s leadership, the Department’s multiple divisions undertook numerous initiatives and programs that have improved Tennessee, including:

  • Accreditation of the Department by the NAIC. As part of the NAIC’s accreditation program, state insurance departments must undergo comprehensive, independent review every five years to ensure they meet financial solvency oversight standards. States that maintain their accredited status demonstrate that the current means of regulatory monitoring is intact and continues to work effectively.
  • Creating and implementing the “Get Alarmed, Tennessee!” free smoke alarm program. Since its inception in 2012, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office and its Tennessee fire service partners have distributed over 198,000 smoke alarms statewide. Smoke alarms installed through the program are credited with saving 265 Tennesseans from fire danger, so far.
  • Modernizing Tennessee’s captive insurance laws, resulting in Tennessee domestic captive insurance companies exceeding $1 billion in written premiums in 2017 for the first time. Its efforts resulted in Tennessee being named Domicile of The Year (Less Than 200 Captives) at the 2018 U.S. Captive Review Awards for its achievements.
  • Streamlining the process of issuing professional licenses, enabling Tennessee professionals to obtain their license in a more timely and efficient manner.

A full bio and photo of McPeak can be found here.

Lawrence previously served as TDCI’s Deputy Commissioner overseeing the Department’s administration as well as the Division of Regulatory Boards. While managing the Division of Regulatory Boards, he oversaw nearly 40 fee reductions across the division’s 27 program areas, benefitting many of the more than 250,000 licensees across the Volunteer State.

A native of Williamson County, Lawrence is an attorney and studied law at the University of Tennessee, where he also obtained a Master of Business Administration. For undergraduate studies, Carter obtained a Bachelor of Arts at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Ill). He and his wife, Amy, are the proud parents of two boys and are members of Church of the Redeemer, where he serves as a vestryman.

Said Lawrence: “Commissioner McPeak leaves a legacy of sound management practices and continually challenging the Department’s executive staff and our team members to strive for their best as they serve the public. Following her example, I will champion Governor Lee’s vision for Tennessee during my service as Interim Commissioner. I thank Governor Lee for the opportunity to serve Tennessee in this role.”

A former Republican state senator and candidate for governor has been selected to oversee Tennessee’s system of state parks and natural areas.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation announced Monday that Nashville entrepreneur and marketing specialist Jim Bryson, who in 2006 ran an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign against incumbent Democrat Phil Bredesen, will replace Brock Hill as deputy TDEC commissioner.

Jim Bryson

Hill, a Cumberland County native, was let go earlier this year following allegations of “workplace misconduct.”

The department’s press release is below:

TDEC Announces Bryson Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Conservation

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.”

“I am honored to be chosen for this role and I look forward to serving Tennessee in this capacity,” Bryson said. “We have an outstanding record in parks and conservation in Tennessee, and I am committed to building on that success alongside the incredible staff. This is a special opportunity for us to preserve and enhance enjoyment of the great natural wonders of our state.”

Bryson is founder and president of 20/20 Research Inc., a market research consulting, project management and technology firm based in Nashville. The business launched in 1986 and is a global leader in online qualitative research software and services. Its QualBoard research platform is used by clients in over 90 countries and in more than 30 languages. Bryson served three terms as president of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association, an international association of research professionals.

Elected in 2002, Bryson served four years as a senator in the Tennessee General Assembly, representing Williamson and Davidson counties, and was his party’s nominee for governor in 2006.

Bryson’s love of the outdoors began in rural Arkansas, living near Lake Dardanelle and Lake Dardanelle State Park. He spent many days and nights in the park, on the lake or in the woods hiking, camping, hunting and fishing.

Bryson is founder and president of The Joseph School, providing a globally competitive education for poor and orphaned children in Haiti. He was a founding board member of the Marketing Research Education Foundation, focused on improving global childhood education. He is a member of the Nashville Downtown Rotary Club and First Baptist Church in Nashville. He received a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University after graduating from Baylor University. He and his wife, Carol, have four children and two grandchildren.

Yahweh non grata in Democrat-controlled U.S. House

Fresh off his widely-panned fried chicken-noshing schtick contrived to mock the U.S. attorney general for declining to attend a pre-prepped political searing in the House of Representatives, Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen has once again cooked up a recipe for national attention and controversy.

Recently, United States Rep. Steve Cohen labeled Attorney General William Barr a “chicken” for refusing to testify before House Democrats regarding the Mueller Report. Fearing the subtlety of his barb might be lost on the American body politic, the Democratic congressman from Memphis sought to further illustrate the point by using props.

This time, though, the seven-term Shelby County Democrat is in the news not for the powerful Trump administration names he’s hankering to grill in committee hearings, but for a higher-power name Cohen and fellow majority-party members want henceforth excluded from formal congressional proceedings.

Upon orders from House Democrat leaders, who seized gavel-handling dominion from Republicans in wake of the 2018 election, the words “So Help Me God” have been removed from the swearing-in oath administered to committee witnesses.

Cohen was quoted in a Saturday New York Times article indicating he’s apparently divined the Divine’s Will, and the Ruler of the Universe no longer wants His name invoked as an attestation of testimonial truth.

Here’s an excerpt from the story headlined, “‘So Help Me God’ No More: Democrats Give House Traditions a Makeover”:

In the House of Representatives, to the winner go the spoils, and Democrats, the new decision makers, control everything, including what legislation gets a vote and the minutiae of procedural choices, such as whether witnesses must utter the traditional plea for divine aid.

Democratic chairmen and chairwomen of several key committees have deemed no such entreaty is necessary.

“I think God belongs in religious institutions: in temple, in church, in cathedral, in mosque — but not in Congress,” said Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

What Republicans are doing, he continued, “is using God.”

“And God doesn’t want to be used,” he said.

 

Press Release from the Office of Republican Tennessee Congressman John Rose, May 10, 2019:

Rose Fights for Small Businesses in Rural Communities

Link: https://johnrose.house.gov/media/press-releases/rose-fights-small-businesses-rural-communities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Wednesday, marking the midpoint of National Small Business Week, Congressman John Rose (TN-6) advocated for the proud small business owners in rural communities of Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District at the House Financial Services Committee meeting. He strongly encouraged his fellow committee members to support his proposed legislation that would allow entrepreneurs in rural communities to receive the capital formation technical assistance available to many other small businesses across the state and nation.

“Small businesses are truly the engine of growth in rural communities,” said Rose. “The vast majority of the 19 counties in Tennessee’s Sixth District are rural, and the workforces in these communities depend on job opportunities provided by entrepreneurs who build their businesses from the ground up. The men and women who operate and work for these enterprises are some of the hardest working people I have met. Startups, family businesses, and local companies in rural communities are often overlooked. Yet, their challenges deserve the same attention other innovators and job creators would receive. This is commonsense reform and a great step toward empowering entrepreneurs by leveling the playing field for small businesses in all types of communities across the United States.”

The legislation, H.R.2409, adds rural small businesses to the mission of the Office of the Advocate for Small Business Capital Formation and will require the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to consider any adverse effects of regulations on rural small businesses. It was introduced on April 30, 2019 and reported favorably out of the House Financial Services Committee on May 8, 2019. Congressman Rose introduced the legislation with Reps. Cynthia Axne (IA-3), Alex Mooney (WV-2), Nydia Velázquez (NY-7), Chris Pappas (NH-1), and Denver Riggleman (VA-5). The Senate companion bill was introduced by Senators John Kennedy (R-LA) and Doug Jones (D-AL).

Congressman John Rose represents Tennessee’s Sixth Congressional District and resides in Cookeville with his wife, Chelsea, and their son, Guy. The Sixth District includes Cannon, Clay, Coffee, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Jackson, Macon, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Robertson, Smith, Sumner, Trousdale, White, and Wilson counties as well as portions of Cheatham and Van Buren counties.

Two of Tennessee’s foremost elected officeholders, Gov. Bill Lee and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, have made statements this week highlighting their disapproval with House Speaker Glen Casada, who is embroiled in scandal involving his former chief of staff.

In a meeting with the press Thursday, Gov. Lee was asked if he’d request that Casada resign, were Casada one of Lee’s employees.

Lee responded, “I would.”

Likewise, McNally declared that were Casada a member of the Senate, he’d ask him to resign — and that if he himself faced similar circumstances, he’d call it quits.

“If it were me, I think if I did some of those things, I’d probably be packing my bags for Oak Ridge,” McNally, referring to his hometown, told a reporter. McNally is Casada’s counterpart in the Senate.

(Update: Lt. Gov. McNally on Friday issued a statement saying he believes “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.”)

Earlier this week, Casada’s 32-year-old chief of staff, Cade Cothren, stepped down after it was revealed that in year’s past he sent inappropriate and offensive text messages, some of which were directed to Casada himself.

Like Casada, both Lee and McNally are members of the Republican Party, which enjoys supermajority control over both floors of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Knoxville Republican state Rep. Bill Dunn, who serves as speaker pro tem of the House and is in line to replace Casada, is among those who say the Williamson County lawmaker is no longer fit for the job as the lower chamber’s presiding member.

Calls for Casada to hand over the speaker’s gavel to someone else have been mounting among both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature.

On Thursday, reporters for USA Today subsidiaries in Tennessee were invited “by multiple lawmakers” to eavesdrop on “a remarkable Wednesday afternoon conference phone call” among House GOP caucus members to discuss the scandal.

During the call, Casada was quoted as saying, “I want to take ownership of what I did, which was wrong. I sent a text to Cade and another individual with inappropriate comments. It was base at best.”

Speaker Casada also told lawmakers on the call, “Let me be very clear, there is nothing else to come out.”

 

Press Release from The Tennessee Firearms Association, May 9, 2019:

Link: https://tennesseefirearms.com/2019/05/tennessee-firearms-association-calls-for-house-members-to-remove-speaker-casada/

Tennessee Firearms Association is calling for members of the Tennessee House of Representatives to vote to remove Glen Casada as Speaker of the Tennessee House based on investigations surrounding the lewd text messaging, the attempted coverup, intentionally false statements to reporters, and related concerns.

John Harris, Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association, states “The Speaker of the House is the third most powerful position in state government. That office holds unilateral control over most of the significant affairs of the House, such as appointments and removals of committee chairs. It would be an unquestioned breach of the public’s interest and trust to have a person in that office who is now proven to be willfully false in his dealings with news reporters and in responding to matters of significant public interest.” Harris continued, “since the Speaker is selected by the House members, it is ultimately the duty of all House members under their oaths of office and as public stewards to make sure that their selected leader is a person of unquestioned truthfulness, integrity and character.”

News reports from Nashville over the last 48 hours document without dispute that Speaker Glen Casada has been willfully dishonest when he attempted to cover up his involvement in the lewd text messaging and misconduct scandal, some of which involved the use of illegal drugs by the Chief of Staff while in government offices, involving himself and his former Chief of Staff. These reports reveal that Glen Casada knew who released the text messages to Channel 5’s Phil Williams as early as Tuesday of last week but that Casada intentionally questioned the existence and source of the text messages in a subsequent interview with Phil Williams and in a radio spot with Phil Valentine of WWTN 99.7 FM (” Now we know that @GlenCasada lied to me when he made up this vast left-wing conspiracy theory (à la Hillary Clinton) just to cover for this idiot Cothren whom Casada had the bad judgement to make his chief of staff. Time to go.” – Twitter post on May 8, 2019).

Elected members of the Tennessee General Assembly take an oath that is set forth in Article X, Section 2, of the state’s Constitution which contains this sworn declaration: “… I will, in all appointments, vote without favor, affection, partiality, or prejudice; and that I will not propose or assent to any bill, vote or resolution, which shall appear to me injurious to the people, or consent to any act or thing, whatever, that shall have a tendency to lessen or abridge their rights and privileges, as declared by the Constitution of this State.” As such, the members of the General Assembly are sworn to protect the interests of the public and to do so with the highest fiduciary and stewardship principles.

Harris commented “the members of the Tennessee Legislature have an affirmative and fiduciary duty to the people of Tennessee to protect the office of Speaker from being held by people who lack the integrity, truthfulness or trust that must be unquestionably present to serve in that office. Speaker Casada, by his conduct and willful dishonesty in a matter of public interest, has unquestionably shown to the other members and the public that he is unqualified to serve in of the highest offices of public trust in the State.”

The members of the Tennessee Legislature individually and collectively owe a duty to the people of the state of Tennessee to set aside personal friendships, loyalties and partisan partialities that they may have and act now to remove Glen Casada from the office of Speaker and to carefully select a replacement who can be fully and unquestionably trusted by the people of this state in this high office. The public has a right, set forth in Article I, Section 23, of the state’s Constitution to demand of their elected officials that they take action now to restore the office of Speaker by purging its current holder from power.

A top aide to Glen Casada, Tennessee’s speaker of the House of Representatives, has resigned in wake of revelations that he sent sexually inappropriate and racially demeaning text messages while employed at the state legislature.

Nashville news outlets reported Monday that Cade Cothren, the House speaker’s 32-year-old chief of staff, announced he is leaving his position. He’d been promoted to the post following Casada’s election to serve as the chamber’s presiding lawmaker back in January.

Cothren said he was resigning so “House and Senate Republicans can continue focusing on those things that make Tennessee the best state in the entire nation.”

Speaker Casada, a Republican from Williamson County, issued a statement following Cothren’s announcement:

“Effective immediately, my Chief of Staff, Cade Cothren has resigned from his position. As this story continued to evolve in recent days, I had additional conversations with Mr. Cothren, and he made this decision to resign. I thank Mr. Cothren for his service to our General Assembly and to the state of Tennessee.”

Over the past several days news outlets have been publishing some of Cothren’s personal text messages from 2014-2016 that appear to indicate he engaged in ill-advised sexual and drug-using behaviors. Also in the electronic communications, he employed offensive slurs describing black people and certain women he associated with professionally, according to media outlets..

First-year House Majority Leader William Lamberth said he was “incredibly shocked and disappointed” by the contents of Cothren’s text messages that’ve thus far been made public.

Lambert said in a statement he “agreed with (Cothren’s) decision to resign immediately.”

“These allegations are grave and serious; I do not condone these actions, and they will not be tolerated,” said Lambert.

During a press conference at the Capitol Tuesday, Democrats called for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to probe the scandal for ethical and potential criminal violations. (See video below.)

During the closing days of the recently adjourned 2019 legislative session, Tennessee lawmakers approved a measure allowing online-gaming providers to begin legally offering internet-based sports betting in the state.

The bill initially passed the House on a vote of 58-37 and cleared the Senate 19-12. The Senate’s version was later adopted by the House, 51-40.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Dickerson of Nashville and Memphis Rep. Rick Staples, a Democrat, the online-only gaming legislation garnered support across party lines.

Proponents of the initiative project that legally-sanctioned internet-based sports betting in Tennessee could, as a result of taxes and licensing fees, increase state and local revenues by more than $50 million annually.

Staples said at least ten gaming companies have already committed to doing business in Tennessee should the measure become law.

Opposition in both chambers came mostly from majority-party Republicans, but didn’t rise to the level necessary to kill the legislation. They argued that the predicted financial windfalls to the state are exaggerated, and that the drawbacks — in particular, more Tennesseans becoming gambling addicts and squandering family resources — would prove significant.

House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, voted in favor of legalizing online sports-betting, while Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, voted against it.

Most state lawmakers whose districts encompass the Upper Cumberland region voted against the measure, including GOP Senators Mark Pody of Lebanon, Paul Bailey of Sparta and Janice Bolwing of Tullahoma.

House Republicans Ryan Williams of Cookeville and Cameron Sexton of Crossville voted in favor of the bill.

Gov. Bill Lee has expressed personal opposition to gambling and said he won’t sign the bill — but he doesn’t plan to veto it either.

“The governor has said he does not believe that the expansion of gambling is best, but he recognizes that many in the legislature found this to be an issue they want to explore further,” a spokeswoman for Lee said. “He plans to let this become law without signature.”

In Tennessee, the General Assembly can override a gubernatorial veto with simple majorities in both chambers.

Other states seriously considering legislation to legalize sports betting this year include Iowa, Montana, Louisiana, Illinois and Indiana. Sports betting is already allowed in Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

The Tennessee legislation prohibits online betting across state lines or by people under 21.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law strictly limiting state-level gambling, thus paving the way for legislatures to approve gaming.