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Tennessee’s embattled House speaker to resign in August

June 4, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s embattled House speaker announced Tuesday that he’ll resign from his leadership position on Aug. 2 after a vote of no confidence by his Republican caucus amid a scandal over explicit text messages.

The move is unprecedented in Tennessee’s modern political era. The last speaker resignation came in 1931 in the Senate.

House Speaker Glen Casada alerted members of his resignation date in a brief emailed statement, adding that he’s also requesting that Gov. Bill Lee call lawmakers back for a special legislative session to elect a new speaker on the day he resigns.

Lee has said he would consider calling a special session should House leadership ask for one.

“Now that the Speaker has announced his intended timeline, we will continue to be in close communication with House leadership and members to determine the best outcome for the House and for Tennessee,” Lee said in a statement.

If Lee declines to call a special session, Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn, a Republican from Knoxville, will take over in the interim until lawmakers meet for their regularly scheduled legislative session in January and the House can elect a new speaker.

Casada has been dogged by calls to resign since it was revealed he exchanged text messages containing sexually explicit language about women with his former chief of staff several years ago, among other controversies.

He had previously announced his plan to resign late last month after a 45-24 secret ballot vote from his GOP caucus determining they no longer had confidence in his ability to lead the Tennessee House.

However, Casada didn’t specify exactly when he would step aside from the roughly $73,000 a year leadership role and instead left the country for a planned vacation to Europe. This sparked concern from some lawmakers that Casada would change his mind and try to win back the favor of his Republican caucus.

Casada took office in January. He received 47 secret ballot votes out of 73 Republicans in the 99-member chamber to become speaker-elect in November. Then the majority leader, he defeated Reps. Curtis Johnson of Clarksville and David Hawk of Greeneville.

Although Casada had built up political support from lawmaker by spending hefty amounts on Republican candidates during the 2018 election, he quickly lost it when top aide Cade Cothren was forced to resign after a text message scandal involving racist and sexually explicit language — as well as Cothren’s admission that he used cocaine in his legislative office before becoming Casada’s chief of staff.

Casada was included in some of the sexual explicit text messages and was involved in one of the group texts with a racist message. Casada acknowledged his crude comments about women but has said he never saw the racist one.

Not only will Casada continue to collect his speaker salary until Aug. 2, but he is also eligible to receive a per diem to cover food and lodging costs. Per diems range from $50 a day to $200 a day depending on whether Casada says the work caused him stay overnight in Nashville. Casada also will continue to receive protection from a state trooper, a perk automatically given to Tennessee’s House and Senate speakers.

It is unclear why Casada asked the House to wait until Aug. 2 to resign. Casada didn’t give a reason in his statement, but the date does mark the speaker’s 60th birthday.

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Reporter Jonathan Mattise contributed to this report.

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