The Casada Lesson: You don’t work for the governor

Frank CagleFrank Talk

Former House Speaker Glen Casada certainly did enough to deserve being ousted from leadership, but the speed and the ease with which it happened could not have occurred had his colleagues not been resentful if not downright angry at the way they had been treated.

The full-court press by Casada and Gov. Bill Lee to pass a voucher bill forced a lot of members to vote against the wishes of the folks back home. Threats and intimidation by Casada’s forces passed a bill that had failed over and over again over the years. Casada went all in for the governor, even when there was overwhelming opposition in his Williamson County district. Let’s examine how the governor paid him back.

The legislature is a co-equal branch of government. House members do not work for the governor and in the final analysis they do not work for the speaker. A House speaker forgets that at his or her peril. Former House Speaker Beth Harwell often told members to “vote your district.” Of course, in Harwell’s case that wasn’t a hard thing to ask. Under her leadership members were asked to abolish the gift tax, abolish the estate tax, phase out the Hall Income Tax, and cut the sales tax on food.

The members could live with that.

But the voucher bill was a top-down initiative from Lee and his advisers who thought they could do anything to force the issue, without consequences. Casada learned about consequences.

The Republican caucus has nominated state Rep. Cameron Sexton to be the next speaker. It should be noted that Sexton opposed the voucher bill and voted against it. He defeated Casada deputy Matthew Hill, a longtime voucher opponent who switched his vote in pursuit of political influence and has instead lost it all. Hill is unlikely to be deputy speaker as soon as Sexton is sworn into office. It was also clear that his colleagues did not want state Rep. Bill Dunn, the sponsor of the voucher bill, as leader. Rather than let Speaker Pro Tem Dunn serve as speaker until next January they had a special session instead to limit him to a couple of weeks.

What about speaker-select Sexton? He has already said the voucher bill will not go into effect next year the way Lee wants. Lee wants to get the superstructure to administer the program in place so it can be expanded and he also fears that just passing the bill may not get the job done. Don’t be surprised if there is a bill next session to repeal the program altogether.

If such a bill comes along do not expect House leadership to try and kill it in committee. Perhaps the 20 freshmen will realize they don’t work for the governor. It’s a cinch that new House Speaker Sexton won’t be offering National Guard promotions or issuing threats to influence members. And if the bill comes to the floor, remember it passed by one vote under extreme intimidation and pressure. Do you think it can pass again without coercion? Even if state Rep. Jason Zachary tries to save it again?

Hill and Dunn were riding high the day the voucher bill passed. Nowadays not so much. Lee had a legislative victory on his first major initiative. But when the bullets started flying he let Casada take the hits. He didn’t do anything to try and stave off the ouster. He said Casada should resign and left him twisting in the wind. Then he called a special session to replace him. So much for allies.

Anybody who thinks about going all-in for the governor instead of listening to the folks back home needs to remember Casada. Perhaps it’s good for Casada to hang around in the House as a walking object lesson. If you sold your soul on the voucher vote because Casada offered you incentives, where are your incentives now? And as far as anything anybody offered you, the FBI is interested in hearing about it.

If you do the right thing generally things will work out. But if you are spineless enough to be intimidated, it’s a hard life. Once you hand over your integrity it’s awfully hard to get it back.

Dr. Manny: Manny Sethi, a candidate for the U.S. Senate to replace the retiring Sen. Lamar Alexander,  came to Knoxville last week for a meet and greet. The event was hosted by Susan Williams at the West Knox insurance offices of Lou Moran. Sethi, a Harvard-trained trauma surgeon, had been running for a while when President Trump announced and endorsed Bill Hagerty as his candidate for the job.

The main issue in the race thus far is Sethi making the point that the Republican establishment is handpicking the next senator and that they are ganging up on him trying to force him from the race. He told me some people made calls trying to get people not to attend the meet and greet.

But he had a good crowd. It was mostly people on Susan Williams’ contact phone list. But that’s a lot of checkbooks.

Frank Cagle is a retired newspaperman and the former managing editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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