Some weeks back I told you that House Speaker Glen Casada had a reputation for being mean and vindictive. In the wake of recent scandals House members are telling Tennessean reporters that they fear their offices have been bugged. They describe the atmosphere in the state legislature as one of paranoia. They call extra staffers Casada hired “hall monitors” and they believe the aides walk the halls and report to Casada what they hear.
Set aside for the moment whether all this is true. Can you imagine what kind of leadership Casada has provided that produces such fear and loathing?
The FBI is investigating the voucher bill vote in the House to see what “inducements” may have been offered in exchange for a yes vote. The overall impression is that of a toxic culture that legislators ought to be ashamed of, and it can be laid at Casada’s feet.
Gov. Bill Lee’s embrace of Casada in the voucher bill campaign may be coming back to haunt him. He now says if Casada worked for him he would fire him. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally is of the same opinion. The question now is whether the House Republican caucus will get a clue. As it is, I believe that the Republicans will hold a majority in the House in the next election, but the party will likely lose its super majority. If they don’t clean up the mess, and soon, it could get worse.
If the Democrats in Knox County put up good candidates in House races next time, they would all have a ready-made issue. All the Republicans in the House delegation voted to take money from state education appropriations and send it to Memphis and Nashville to pass on to private schools. And if they do nothing to replace Casada as speaker, that’s strike two. Perhaps a bucket of cold water in the face might wake up the complacent Republicans. A few losses might make them pause the next time they decide to kiss a tyrant’s butt instead of listening to the folks back home. (If the folks back home had been for vouchers, they would not have been so anxious to get Knox County out of the bill.)
Casada told members if they voted for vouchers, even though they ran promising to vote against them, he would have their back. He would raise money for their re-election. If Casada is gone, the legislators will be out on a limb waiting for the ladder truck that won’t be coming.
Much attention has been paid (and rightly so) to Cade Cothren, Casada’s chief of staff, and his emails about drug use, racist remarks and tales of sexual exploits. Can you imagine having a boss to whom you could send a message bragging about having sex in the bathroom of a public restaurant and have the boss chuckle and joke in return?
But what has gotten less attention is Casada’s loading up his office with political operatives on the state payroll. Casada’s office payroll is $5.1 million, compared to former Speaker Beth Harwell’s $3.8 million. Newschannel 5 reports a ghost employee being paid $48,000 a year to hang around until the next election. Michael Lofti doesn’t have an office or regular hours in his job. He was fired by former House Speaker Harwell for running his political-consulting business out of a legislative office.
The governor has been in office for one legislative session, and the FBI is already investigating the passage of his signature education bill. Was Lee so clueless he didn’t realize that Casada and his team might be doing something wrong? It was a bill wrong for education, passed wrongly.
When an officeholder rules by fear and intimidation he/she can’t ever appear vulnerable. Support is brittle and a crack can be fatal. Casada is wounded. He’s told members there isn’t anything else out there, they know it all. I’m betting the Capitol Hill press corps will disagree. Phil Williams at Newschannel 5, Joel Ebert and Natalie Allison at the Tennessean and Andy Sher at the Chattanooga Times Free Press have done outstanding work. And I suspect they aren’t through yet.