There are some state legislators expressing shock about the scandals surrounding the man they elected speaker of the House in January. They want the voters to know that the legislature is made up of members who do not bear any resemblance to the disgraced Glen Casada.
It is certainly true that most members of the House are decent upstanding people who do not go around receiving sexist and racist texts from their chief of staff. But that doesn’t quite let them off the hook. Anyone who had served more than one term in the House had to be aware of Casada’s reputation. It didn’t bother them when they voted to give him high office. If I knew what sort of fellow he was sitting on my porch in Strawberry Plains, you can’t tell me the members of the legislature didn’t know what sort of fellow he was. But they elected him anyway.
(Let’s recall that Casada, as caucus chair, was the protector and sponsor of disgraced state Rep. Jeremy Durham, a sexual harasser, until the members finally ousted him. Casada made state Rep. David Byrd chair of an education subcommittee despite his facing allegations of sexual assault.)
Most of the new members were helped in their election by Casada, Casada’s PAC money and Casada’s reckless chief of staff, Cade Cothren. Given the two dozen new members who owed Casada, he had a good cushion going in for the vote.
During the run up to the speaker election, two examples tell the story. A veteran lobbyist told me that Casada would win because he is so mean no one wanted to cross him. Voting against him would put you on a list and render you ineffective. A new member asked me about candidates for speaker. Knowing he was a strait-laced kind of guy, I told him he probably wanted to avoid Casada because of his reputation. He voted for him anyway.
There is another example of Casada’s pettiness at the expense of good order. I haven’t written about it because it was a small thing compared to Casada’s other sins. I told you a while back that Casada kicked me off the state Textbook Commission because he didn’t like what I was writing about him and the voucher bill. Well, as far as I’m concerned, that’s no big deal. But as a result of that action the Textbook Commission did not have a quorum. It has not been able to meet for the past two months. That means the timeline for approval of this year’s textbooks is disrupted. Publishers have been unable to get books approved, and it has put a strain on the Department of Education to do its job. So a petty little grievance by the speaker has screwed up the textbook approval process.
By the way, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally has reappointed me to the commission, so we can now meet and try to catch up. It’s a recess appointment so I’m good, unless the speaker of the House next January is as vindictive as Casada. I do have a tendency to piss people off.
Requiring that the next speaker not carouse with young staffers, run up $180 liquor bills for a dinner in a downtown Nashville eatery and share texts of sexual conquests is a pretty low bar. One also hopes the next speaker has leadership ability and does not try to run the House like a Marine boot camp. Or an “Animal House” fraternity.
Who’s No. 2? We explained last week that state Rep. Bill Dunn, the House Speaker Pro Tem, was elected by the members and is No. 2 in the House hierarchy. The deputy speaker is a made-up position to reward some crony by giving them a title. Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill is also seeking to be the new speaker of the House. Hill was a Casada suck-up who would alter any position to satisfy the speaker – he was a longtime voucher opponent until Casada rewarded him with titles and power to vote for it. He was also the guy who visited committee chairs carrying a “kill” list of legislation the speaker wanted dead and buried, a job Dunn was unlikely to perform. Selecting Hill is keeping the Casada crew in place.
What’s next? The latest Power Poll, a survey of community leaders, movers and shakers and people with influence, reveals that 40 percent of those surveyed say the priority for the next mayor of Knoxville should be redevelopment of the former St. Mary’s Hospital campus. This was followed, at 26 percent, by development of a baseball stadium just east of the Old City.