Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada Has Failed In His Duty. Time For A New Speaker by Keel Hunt for The Tennessean
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by BriteHeart | 5.8.19
It is an unfortunate truth in some large organizations that there are usually one or two rotten apples somewhere down in the barrel.
But in the vaulted chamber of Tennessee’s House of Representatives, the bad apple hangs from the top. The past week has demonstrated that with great clarity. It is time now for Speaker Glen Casada to go.
When the 2019 legislative session ended in virtual chaos in the House, I could not imagine the scene getting any worse:
- On the last day, the speaker ordered his sergeants-at-arms to block the chamber exits lest the minority Democrats leave to deprive him of a shaky quorum.
- Worst of all, his chief of staff Cade Cothren was implicated in a scheme to take away the freedom of a young African-American man who dared to confront Casada in the Capitol on a number of public issues.
- Casada, a deeply partisan Republican, appointed no Democrats to the key legislative conference committee, then claimed his predecessors had done the same partisan thing.
Ex-speaker Jimmy Naifeh calls out Casada
Speaker of the House Glen Casada speaks with Representative Karen Camper during session in Nashville on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Photo: Shelley Mays / The Tennessean )
“That’s a damn lie,” former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (1991-2008) told me on Monday, when I asked him about Casada’s claim. Naifeh, a Democrat, says he always appointed members of both political parties to important conference committees.
But adjournment didn’t stop the turmoil. What we didn’t know was how worse, even tawdry, things were about to get after the weekend.
What then unfolded was an appalling scandal that mixed sexist and racist language and even drug use in the legislative office. And Casada himself, by his own complicit text messages, was also caught in much of this web.
On Monday night, I watched WTVF reporter Phil Williams repeatedly ask Cothren this question, among others:
“How did this happen?”
On-screen it was a one-sided conversation and yet a searing scene of Cothren’s career imploding. The newsman was asking all the right questions. Casada’s soon-to-be ex-chief would give him no answer.
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House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, left, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, hear opinions about the renovations and additions at the governor's mansion before casting their votes Jan. 10, 2008. Both men are members of the State Building Commission, which voted to continue the project. (Photo: Dipti Vaidya / The Tennessean)
Here’s how I believe all this fundamentally came about:
In January, the wrong guy became speaker. Then, with no care for balancing their abilities, Casada put Cothren in the top staff spot and tripled his salary. Arrogance was allowed to take root.
On the things that matter most in public service, the “leader” in this instance didn’t lead. Casada should be pressed on what he knew – and when – of his top aide’s unacceptable behavior toward women. Sadly, this is not a new issue in the General Assembly.
Cothren was a minor player before Casada shared with him the power of the speaker’s high office. But that elevation only revealed a low character, who proceeded to confuse selfishness with service.
Next steps for Speaker Casada and fellow House members
What should Casada do now?
First, he might apologize – not to me but to the women who were demeaned, and to the voters in his district for shredding their trust and dishonoring their votes.
Then, he should leave. It will not be enough for him to flee reporters by ducking out through another back door or slip quickly into one of those private corridors in the Cordell Hull Building. Not now. Not for all this.
And what should his colleagues do? On one level, it’s complicated because Casada is in the middle – not the end – of his two-year term. Also, since he appointed Republican members to chair so many House committee, some may feel a loyalty and/or fear him if he survives.
But here’s the best question for each Republican in that GOP caucus to answer in their hearts: Where does your highest loyalty lie? To Casada, who has now failed and embarrassed you, or to your own voting constituents back home who deserve much better?
Fear does not a democracy keep. We have too much of that in Washington now, and we need no more of it in Tennessee.
Columnist Keel Hunt is the author of two books on Tennessee politics and government: "Coup" and "Crossing the Aisle." Learn more at www.KeelHunt.com.
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