Stockard on the Stump: Registry members ticked about Casada comments

March 4, 2022 6:00 am
Tennessee State Capitol (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee State Capitol (Photo: John Partipilo)

Registry of Election Finance members are chafing over former House Speaker Glen Casada’s claim this week that the registry should have called him first about a questionable political action committee rather than issue a subpoena.

The more they think about it, the angrier they get.

“Casada accuses the Registry of bias and in the same breath asks for special treatment. It’s a complete contradiction,” Registry member Hank Fincher said Thursday in response to Tennessee Lookout questions.

As the board continued a probe Wednesday of the Faith Family Freedom Fund political action committee, Casada told the Registry he felt it biased against him and a “little reckless” in issuing the subpoena. He forgot to mention the board gave him a get out of jail free card in 2020 when it questioned some $98,000 in questionable expenses on his political action committee. One could have surmised he was living off his PAC. He got off with a $10,000 penalty he was able to pay from the PAC, which swelled when he became House speaker, even if it was the shortest speakership in state history at only seven months.

Casada complained that the media “got hold” of the subpoena and made it look as if he’d done something wrong. The former speaker also blamed the media when the House Republican Caucus passed a no-confidence vote in the spring of 2019. That didn’t work,and three months later he resigned. 

“I would urge you in the future, when things like this come up, just call me or other legislators, just call us here, don’t subpoena us. If we don’t come, by golly, you all need to put the hammer down. That’s why you’re here, and I expect that,” Casada told the board.

Casada claimed he had no connection or interaction with the Faith Family Freedom Fund and said it’s been three years since he was involved in any race outside of his, trying to dismiss the notion he gets involved in politics anymore. But the PAC was involved in the 2019 race between first-term state Rep. Todd Warner, a Chapel Hill Republican who defeated incumbent Rick Tillis of Lewisburg, who had been critical of Casada and his chief of staff, Cade Cothren during a scandal involving racist and sexist text messages that proved to be the impetus for Casada’s resignation.

Biting the hand? Rep. Glen Casada accused members of the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance of bias against him, although they same group let him slide in 2020 on $98,000 of questionable expenses in his political action committee: he got off with a $10,000 penalty he paid from his PAC.

Casada specifically accused of Fincher of bias because he had the temerity to point out that Casada’s former chief of staff worked closely with him and was pinpointed by a former girlfriend, Sydney Friedhopfer, who said he asked her to create the PAC and sign off as its treasurer, so he could run it. Her sister is to be subpoenaed next.

The PAC received a $7,500 donation from a North Carolina restaurateur named Brandon Crawford, which was used in an independent ad to attack Tillis. His former campaign treasurer filed a complaint alleging illegal coordination between the Warner campaign and Faith Family Freedom Fund.

The donation involved a PostIt mailbox, a similar mode of operation as used for Dixieland Strategies, an Alabama vendor that did work for the Warner, and Phoenix Solutions, a New Mexico-based vendor that did tens of thousands of dollars worth of work for House Republicans and the House Republican Caucus. They all used the postal code, 383, leading investigators to believe they’re connected.

Fincher points out Casada’s “close relationship” with Cothren warranted investigation of the matter.

“Casada says that he had no information in response to the subpoena, and we had no evidence that he did, but it would have been the height of special treatment and bias to have given him a free pass when others were having to answer our questions,” Fincher said.

"By golly, you all need to put the hammer down," Rep. Glen Casada told Registry of Election Finance members on Wednesday.(Photo: Sam Stockard)
“By golly, you all need to put the hammer down,” Rep. Glen Casada told Registry of Election Finance members on Wednesday.(Photo: Sam Stockard)

“The public needs to know that the Registry of Election Finance will follow the evidence where it leads regardless of who it might implicate. That includes outgoing and soon to be former representative Casada,” he said.

Casada is running for the county court clerk’s post in Williamson County.

Meanwhile, Registry members are still trying to figure out the connection between the ghost-like North Carolina donor and the Faith Family Freedom Fund.

Maybe Cothren, who refused to show up this week despite a subpoena, can shed some light on the PAC and its operations, as well as the working of the two other mysterious vendors. 

The Registry turned the matter over to the Attorney General’s Office, which will be responsible for taking the case to Chancery Court and possibly having Cothren arrested if he keeps resisting.

After all, he has promised to tell all he knows – some day.

Librarians become Public Enemy No. 1

The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee turned into Jackball City this week, shortly before passing legislation that would allow teachers and librarians to be charged with trafficking in obscene material, also referred to pornography, if questionable books are found on their shelves.

Last week, country music performer John Rich of Big & Rich compared librarians to a man driving around in a white van trying to entice children to ride away with him. The difference is that kids can run from a man in a van, Rich said, but they can’t escape teachers grooming them for sex.

This week, we were treated to former Saturday Night Live performer Victoria Jackson of Williamson County, who told the committee at one time she thought Middle Tennessee was the Bible Belt, but soon found out pornography is library books.

The ones in that committee who did hurl insults to librarians, those are very unfair. It was very unfounded . . . I have two boys in public schools. The librarian in their school is a wonderful friend of ours.

– Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby

“We’re in a spiritual battle,” Jackson said, claiming the state is wrestling against the goals of the Communist Party USA to gain control of schools, soften the curriculum, discredit the Founding Fathers, and on and on.

Quoting books, she dropped a few F-bombs and B-words. She was soon followed by others who used dirty words to describe sex acts, spouting out a litany of foul language. 

I wasn’t even in the room but still felt my sensibilities violated.

Notified about these outbursts, Senate Republican leaders said Thursday they could not support such comments and defended Tennessee’s teachers and librarians. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said he would have to look at the legislation to separate it from such comments.

In fact, several bills are moving through the Legislature as part of an effort to rein in school library books and keep dirty words out of kids’ heads. Nevermind what they hear on the playground or when mom and dad get drunk and go stark-raving crazy.

Gov. Bill Lee’s legislation flew through the General Assembly, setting up a process for parents to review every book and curriculum in their child’s school.

But the bill sponsored by Rep. Scott Cepicky, which puts librarians in the cross-hairs, is clearly more selective.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison isn’t certain whether he’ll support the bill, although he says librarians who have “nefarious” intentions should be worried. Yet Faison was still bothered by statements made in the Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

We’ve all heard of instances when teachers made improper sexual advances toward students. That could hit close to home for some legislators.

“The ones in that committee who did hurl insults to librarians, those are very unfair. It was very unfounded. … I have two boys in public school. The librarian in their school is a wonderful friend of ours. The librarians in my district, they’re nothing like that. They’re people I trust my children with,” said Faison, who hails from Cosby in the Great Smoky Mountains. “So to generalize anybody … and say people are like this in Tennessee, there might be somebody in Tennessee like that. The important thing is when the parents are engaged, it will root out somebody like that.”

To be sure, we’ve all heard of instances when teachers made improper sexual advances toward students. That could hit a little close to home for some of our legislators.

But Cepicky’s bill appears to be part of a comprehensive effort to clamp down on school libraries, and passage wouldn’t be surprising.

An encore performance

Reacting to this week’s shenanigans, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro of Nashville said, “It was one of Victoria Jackson’s best skits ever.”

But seriously, he and other Democrats believe the spate of education and school-related bills going through the General Assembly are part of an agenda to reshape public education.

Those involve “monetizing” the value of students through the governor’s K-12 funding formula plan, allowing charter schools a wider door and bringing in Hillsdale College’s charter school plan, which is just a little odd (intentional understatement).

Metro Nashville Public Schools teachers, parents and others rallied outside the Cordell Hull Building on Thursday, saying “Don’t Hate – Educate.”

Paula Pendergrass, vice president of the Metro Nashville Education Association, bull horned that students need to learn about the past, present and future and think “critically and creatively.”

“While educators work tirelessly to give our children every opportunity to learn, some politicians, once again, are trying to censor the reality of our children” and limit their access to education materials, Pendergrass said.

Paula Pendergrass, Vice President of the Metro Nashville Education Association, speaking at a Thursday rally supporting public education. (Photo: Sam Stockard)
Paula Pendergrass, Vice President of the Metro Nashville Education Association, speaking at a Thursday rally supporting public education. (Photo: Sam Stockard)

“Let librarians be librarians,” the mantra went.

Kent Oliver, director of Nashville Public Library, read to the crowd a statement displaying concerns about government censorship of books and libraries. 

“The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. But it is continually under attack. Private groups and public authorities in various parts of the country are working to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label controversial views, to distribute lists of objectionable books or authors and to purge libraries,” he said.

The only problem: The words were written amid McCarthyism in the 1950s.

Maybe I heard that in a previous life. Or this really is deja vu all over again.

Go Vlad?

Troubling stuff keeps popping up about Hillsdale College. One article floating around this week reports that the college’s founding president had an affair with his daughter-in-law, who then killed herself in 1999 after he confessed their relationship. Yes, that was a long time ago, but a lot of people who were alive then are still alive, except for her, in this case.

Gov. Bill Lee, who invited Hillsdale to start 100 charter schools in Tennessee, has said it will offer classical, non-religious education for children. By the way, those schools will be funded with taxpayer dollars, and three already have applications in Williamson and Montgomery counties. 

Yet we have to wonder if the governor has vetted this school fully. 

A March 2017 column in Imprimis, the school’s newsletter, by Christopher Caldwell, senior fellow with the Claremont Institute, says “(Vladimir) Putin would count as the pre-eminent statesman of our time,” if traditional measures were used to understand leaders, including border defense and national flourishing.

Heck, no wonder former President Donald Trump and Putin were such good friends. They both wanted to make their countries great again.

Unfortunately, Putin committed one of the biggest crimes of the 21st century a week ago by invading Ukraine. Russia promised to help protect Ukraine after it gave up its nuclear weapons under the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which the United States and United Kingdom also signed. Obviously, Putin isn’t recognizing the accord.  

School children across Russia and the former Soviet Union satellites are crying. But some in the United States are privately rooting for Putin in hopes it will make President Joe Biden look weak. 

Simultaneously, supporters of former President Trump, such as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia are participating in white nationalist events where the crowd chanted “Putin! Putin!” according to an Associated Press report.

A March 2017 column in Hillsdale College’s newsletter, Imprimis, supported Russian president Vladimir Putin. “Putin would count as the pre-eminent statesman of our time.

Some Republican leaders called Greene’s actions “unacceptable.” But she still commands a strong following.

I’m just trying to figure out when we got so cozy with the former KGB leader. Maybe it was when former President George W. Bush looked into his eyes and decided he had a soul. To be fair, FDR fell prey to Stalin too. Roosevelt just didn’t know how many people he sent to die in the gulags. And if they’d listened to Gen. George Patton, the Russians might not have picked off Eastern Europe for half a century. 

Whatever the case, we’re stuck with Putin until the Ukrainians turn him back or we get into World War IV.

Maybe someone at Hillsdale should be more careful about what they run in their bulletins. 

Oops, I almost forgot. The college also mischaracterized the entire civil rights movement by claiming slain leader Martin Luther King did not favor “use of force,” when he did support civil rights laws that made discrimination illegal in housing, government and at the ballot box, according to a NewsChannel5 report. 

Reporter Phil Williams also turned up speeches from frequent Hillsdale College speaker Roger Kimball, who called the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol an “insurrection hoax.”

Oh well, we have some legislators who think it was a hoax too. Just who are we to believe? Certainly, not our own eyes.

Robinson sentencing postponed

Former state Sen. Katrina Robinson sent out a statement Thursday saying her sentencing for felony wire fraud convictions was postponed until March 18 after the judge disagreed with the prosecution’s new legal strategy.

The Senate was determined to bounce her out of the chamber before sentencing, claiming she violated its ethics policy, even as she pleaded for Republican leaders to wait until the judge wraps up the case.

Sen. Katrina Robinson in the Tennessee Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Sen. Katrina Robinson in the Tennessee Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

At this rate, she could prove correct. And that would look bad for an “august body” that claims to fully consider every side before acting.

Republicans could take over town

A Tennessee host team took Republican National Committee members all over Nashville Sunday and Monday – well maybe not to Springwater – to show off the town’s bright spots. (By the way, they close whenever the nighttime bartender feels like it.)

The group included Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden and Gov. Lee, and had stop-ins from House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Gov. McNally, as it visited the Music City Center, Country Music Hall of Fame and Bridgestone Arena, where the Republican National Convention could be held in two years.

Nashville is a finalist, along with Milwaukee and Salt Lake City.

Places such as Union Station, Fifth and Broad and the National Museum of African American Music, plus thousands of hotel rooms within walking minutes of Bridgestone make Nashville a strong competitor, Golden says.

“I would say we’re certainly in the mix,” he notes.

All told, it could cost about $60 million to put on the affair, mainly for security and logistics. According to reports, Gov. Lee put $25 million in his budget to attract the event.

Rather than having to drive to the convention at a site 45 minutes away, holding it in downtown Nashville would make it “more like a New York-style event where everybody’s all in there together,” Golden says.

The committee will vote in August, but a decision will likely be made sooner.

One might ask, though, how will Republican convention delegates mix with a blue city such as Nashville. 

But considering few people who live in Davidson County spend time on Lower Broad, don’t expect a lot of political fights. Of course, we could also see a run on short-term rentals, too.

“You don’t know me, but I’m your brother.”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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 and Best Single Feature from the Tennessee Press Association.