Commentary

Stockard on the Stump: Casada resigns without the funky chicken hanging around

November 12, 2021 5:00 am
Rep. Glen Casada, R- Franklin, photographed by John Partipilo on Jan. 12, 2021.

Rep. Glen Casada, R- Franklin, photographed by John Partipilo on Jan. 12, 2021.

Less than a year after the feds knocked on his front door, former House Speaker Glen Casada is set to leave the Legislature in 2022 holding the dubious distinction of the shortest speakership in state history.

The only thing missing is a funky chicken.

That odd creature was joined by a creepy penguin, a half-naked bear-woman and several other denizens at the 21C Museum Hotel in Nashville where they stood watch outside a closed meeting of the House Republican Caucus as members gave Casada a no-confidence vote. The May 2019 decision came amid a racist and sexist texting scandal perpetrated mainly by his chief of staff, Cade Cothren, who was paid nearly $200,000 to—ultimately— lead Casada to his political grave.

Of course, Cothren’s job wasn’t to kill Casada politically. It was to party like a rock star with his boss, lean on House weaklings for votes, offer perks to other members— some of them possibly illegal—for their support of the governor’s voucher bill, bring in “hall monitors” to eavesdrop on legislators and manipulate emails and social media to build up the speaker and make his enemies look bad. That was just part of the plummet.

Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, photographed during a recent special legislative session. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, photographed during a recent special legislative session. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Casada also relegated members who opposed his run to the speakership to meaningless back-bench positions in the House. For instance, Rep. Ryan Williams went from caucus chairman to cast-off, and Rep. Jeremy Faison, now the Republican Caucus chairman, was stripped of a leadership post and sent into the hinterland.

Not to mention bill “kill lists” and a $4 million slush fund set up to award lawmakers loyal to Casada.

Federal agents started investigating Casada’s regime that spring, mainly whether he offered to make Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle a general in the National Guard. Windle, who was already a colonel, recused himself from a recent nullification vote in the House, lest it appear he was committing treason.

Despite the no-confidence vote, the House Republican Caucus had to force Casada out, because he didn’t want to leave. He needed the money after getting fired by a veterinary pharmaceutical company.

That led to one of the funniest local news incidents in recent history when Casada ran from intimidating WSMV reporter Carley Gordon, who was pregnant at the time, and escaped in a state SUV.

But just as the federal probe seemed to fade, the FBI showed up at Canada’s door in January 2021, investigating whether he funneled campaign funds to a shadowy company out of New Mexico called Phoenix Solutions.

Many people believe the firm was really Cothren in disguise, rising from the ashes. It went underground after the media started asking questions, but not before the House Republican Caucus paid it tens of thousands for campaign services.

The FBI also raided the homes of Cothren and Republican Reps. Robin Smith of Hixson and Todd Warner of Chapel Hill.

The Registry of Election Finance recently let Warner off the hook, according to the Tennessee Journal, for a questionable $75,500 expense with Dixieland Strategies in his 2020 victory over incumbent Rep. Rick Tillis, a critic of the Casada administration. Warner belatedly turned in receipts at last week’s meeting. He blamed the feds, and he didn’t keep them in his wallet, which is what I do with Lowe’s receipts knowing full well I’ll be back.

I think it's really sad because Glen, probably more than anybody, was responsible for the rise of the Republican Party in Tennessee.

– Jim Coley, late GOP state representative

Dixieland Strategies remains a mystery, which registry board members lamented, along with the Faith Family Freedom Forum, a PAC that ran independent ads bashing Tillis. The former rep’s campaign advisor contended that Warner colluded with the political action committee to attack Tillis, but those allegations haven’t gone far. 

The Registry of Election Finance ran into a series of hurdles, according to the TNJ, in trying to audit the Faith Family Freedom Forum, which used the same postal code as Dixieland and Phoenix Solutions. Still, the registry board decided to hold a show-cause hearing when it will determine whether to press ahead on the case.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave …. .

Things seemed strange enough that May day in 2019 when reporters were escorted away from the closed-door meeting downstairs at the boutique hotel to the 21C lounge where they whiled away the time as Republicans debated Casada’s fate. They’re a little crazier now.

Ultimately, it came down to Casada’s shenanigans. They were sick of him.

Casada’s legacy is a class tragedy. He made his way to the top and if he played it cool, he could have remained Speaker of the House for years. But after relegating  political opponents to meaningless roles and maintaining legislative “kill lists,” his colleagues had enough.

The late Jim Coley, a Bartlett Republican, said he voted no-confidence because of Casada’s poor judgment on personnel decisions.

“I think it’s really kind of sad because Glen, probably more than anybody, was responsible for the rise of the Republican Party in Tennessee. I mean he worked fearlessly ever since I’ve been up at the Legislature,” Coley said in 2019.

But helping Republicans take majority control from Democrats won’t be Casada’s legacy. Nor will it be his support for the Katie Beckett waiver and funds to help parents of fragile children with treatment and education.

Casada’s legacy will be one of classic tragedy. Once he made his way to the top, a fatal flaw brought his fall. Casada could have played it cool and remained speaker for years. Instead, he flew too close to the sun and fell to Earth.

No funky chicken dance can save him. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see FBI agents show up at Cordell Hull with an arrest warrant, killing any hopes he might have for the Williamson County Clerk job and life after the Legislature.

Ford “deal killer”?

Tennessee Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bobby Rolfe was a little anxious two weeks ago when the Legislature held its special session on COVID-19 bills and other assorted numbskullery.

He’d been working for months, if not years, on the Ford project for the Memphis Regional Megasite. Yet despite business community concerns, the Republican-led Legislature—in its infinite wisdom—moved ahead with proposals that threatened to jeopardize the largest business investment in state history. A deal worth $5.6 billion and 5,800 jobs is nothing to sneeze at, unless you’re trying to appease right-wing voters in East Tennessee who don’t give a whit about West Tennessee.

Bob Rolfe, Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (Photo: tn.gov)
Bob Rolfe, Commissioner, Tennessee of Economic and Community Development Department, said Ford Motor Co. fellowship for Tennessee’s “secret sauce.” (Photo: tn.gov)

Rolfe stopped for a quick interview this week with reporters on the street outside the Capitol where he discussed the situation in which Ford made lawmakers aware of its discomfort with COVID-19 legislation and the possibility it could be a “deal killer,” as Rolfe described the situation.

It’s the first time anyone in the Lee Administration used the term “deal killer” to discuss Ford’s disdain for anti-mask and anti-vaccine legislation, all of which was worked out to some degree in the automaker’s favor after panic and closed-door meetings that lasted into the next morning. 

Shortly after Rolfe’s assessment, Gov. Bill Lee declined —twice—in an interview Wednesday to say whether he thought the initial bill was a “deal killer.” 

“I had no conversations with Ford about specifics of that bill. As you know, we didn’t propose (it), the General Assembly did, so there were a lot of folks that gave input on the legislation through the process and then the General Assembly came out through their process with what they thought was the right direction,” he said shortly after a Veterans Day ceremony.

Still, he owns the legislation, saying he would sign it into law by Friday and start working on changes after making a line-by-line review with legislative leaders. 

Apparently, some folks’ input meant more than others, meaning Rolfe can start recruiting again after getting approval from the State Building Commission for $136 million in infrastructure to the megasite. The Tennessee Board of Regents also obtained approval to move forward with a $40 million college of applied technology at the Haywood County site.

Don’t worry people, we’ve got the money in surplus, and Rolfe can relax.

No conflict here?

Knox County Republican Party Chairman Daniel Herrera ran afoul of the GOP in Knoxville recently when it came to light his consulting firm was getting paid to run campaigns pitting Republicans against each other.

Tyler Whetstone reported this week Herrera said he wasn’t involved in campaigns that hired the firm, Angle, which he left in September. 

Yet it is against the party’s by-laws for the party chairman to get involved in primary races.

Oddly enough, a similar thing is happening in Davidson County where Democratic Party Chair Tara Houston’s Triumph Strategies is working for the David Briley campaign. The former mayor is running against Democrat Wendy Longmire for Circuit Court judge.

Houston confirmed this week the firm is helping Briley’s campaign raise money, but she said she’s following party by-laws and doing nothing wrong.

“In my capacity as chair, I have remained neutral in all Davidson County Democratic primaries and maintained total transparency regarding my work as a political fundraising professional,” she said in a statement to the Tennessee Lookout.

Knox County Republican Chair Daniel Herrera and Davidson County Democratic Party Chair Tara Houston are answering questions about their involvement in partisan campaigns.

Under the party’s by-laws, the county chair isn’t allowed to endorse candidates but can support candidates in primaries in personal and professional capacities, she said. 

A review of the rules backs up her assertion. 

The by-laws say, “The chair and executive committee members, acting apart from their party office, may support and participate in campaigns for local, state or national candidates of their choice in contested Democratic primaries.”

Houston points out every candidate in a Democratic primary is given the opportunity to address the full committee at monthly meetings and participate in public forums held by the party. 

“Any member of the executive committee—myself included—is expected to recuse themselves from any official business pertaining to a candidate they are personally affiliated with,” she said.

Thus, it appears the party has created a loophole for the chair and executive committee members. But what happens if Briley is accused of malfeasance and members try to remove him from the primary ballot? Houston would have to sit on the sidelines at a key point.

Not to be a gnit-picker, but these rules are a little weird.

Love thy neighbor

State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, who probably isn’t on the Christmas list of the House Republican Caucus and maybe not the Democratic Caucus, either, tells the Tennessee Lookout an early version of a state redistricting map moves his home into the same district as Democratic state Reps. Mike Stewart and Jason Potts.

The Nashville Democrat says he was allowed by a staff attorney to see the map. He could write down streets but not take a picture of the map because it was called a “concept.” Clemmons calls it a bad joke and contends voters deserve “much better than what is currently on paper.”

He might have a point, since Potts lives in the Antioch area, and Stewart resides in East Nashville, across town from Clemmons’ Belmont area house.

Nashville Democrat Rep. John Ray Clemmons saw a “concept” of the legislative redistrict map and calls it a “bad joke.’ Good luck getting sympathy from the GOP: Clemmons and fell Rep. Mike Stewart of Nashville have been thorns’ in Republicans’ sides for years.

But if he’s looking for sympathy from Republicans, good luck. They couldn’t care less about Potts, who isn’t running for re-election. He claims nobody listens to him, and he’s absent most of the time anyway.

Stewart, a former House Democratic Caucus chairman, isn’t nearly as vocal as he was when he held that designation. But he’s not sweating the map. He hasn’t even considered whether he will seek re-election.

t's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll: Musician Angus Young of AC/DC performs onstage during the 2015 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images for Coachella)
It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll: Musician Angus Young of AC/DC performs onstage during the 2015 Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images for Coachella)

“I’ll make that decision during election year as I always do and, needless to say, I won’t put any more stock in some preliminary Republican map than I do in other stuff the Republicans have been up to,” he said in a text message responding to Tennessee Lookout questions.

This Republican strategy, if it holds true, isn’t surprising. 

Clemmons and Stewart have been thorns in Republicans’ sides for the past few years, often forcing them to answer legal questions they don’t understand. Any method they can find to take them out is to be expected, no matter how bad the gerrymandering looks.

“It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll.” AC/DC.

  

 

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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

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