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Capitol View commentary: Friday, May 17, 2019

Posted: 1:06 PM, May 17, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-17 14:06:32-04
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
May 17, 2019

HOUSE REPUBLICANS TO CAUCUS MONDAY TO DETERMINE SPEAKER GLEN CASADA’S FATE
The Tennessee House Republican Super Majority (more than 70-plus members strong) convenes behind closed doors Monday afternoon (May 20) to determine the fate of its embattled Speaker Glen Casada. The GOP Caucus is expected to consider and debate a resolution of no confidence in its leader.

If that passes, Casada won’t automatically be removed but it will greatly increase the pressure on him to resign or face a special session of the Legislature to be called to force his ouster/ The special session could be called by either Governor Bill Lee or by lawmakers themselves. It takes 66 legislators to sign a letter requesting a special session.

A special Caucus meeting requires the signatures of ten members. Stephen Elliot of THE NASHVILLE SCENE first obtained a copy. Here is what the letter said and who signed on. The first sentence headline is obviously a joke.

THIS IS A CONFIDENTIAL COMMUNICATION INTENDED ONLY FOR THE HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAUCUS. NO DISSEMINATION OF THIS COMMUNICATION ORALLY OR IN WRITING IS PERMITTED.

5/10/2019

Dear Chairman Sexton:

Pursuant to the House Republican Caucus bylaws, the undersigned members, being ten (10) or more, hereby respectfully request a Caucus meeting to be held in Nashville, Tennessee at the earliest possible date.

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the sentiment of the Caucus regarding support for Speaker Glen Casada and to conduct, if duly moved by the Caucus, a secret ballot vote to establish whether Speaker Casada has the support of the Caucus to continue in his current position as Speaker of the House of Representatives. The overarching goal is that we move forward as a constructive, united Caucus for the House as a body on behalf of all Tennesseans. The meeting is called for these purposes and no other.

The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the sentiment of the Caucus regarding support for Speaker Glen Casada and to conduct, if duly moved by the Caucus, a secret ballot vote to establish whether Speaker Casada has the support of the Caucus to continue in his current position as Speaker of the House of Representatives. The overarching goal is that we move forward as a constructive, united Caucus for the House as a body on behalf of all Tennesseans. The meeting is called for these purposes and no other.

We request the meeting be held offsite and only Caucus members be permitted to attend. We request that you as Caucus Chair develop whatever rules you deem necessary to conduct the meeting in such a way as to protect the Speaker and the Caucus concerning the dissemination of the vote or comments made therein.

The signatures of the members below should not be construed as indicating any particular position they may take at the meeting.

Regards,
/Jerry Sexton/

Other signatories:

Rep. Mike Carter, Ooltewah
Rep. Ron Gant, Rossville
Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, Signal Mountain
Rep. Dan Howell, Cleveland
Rep. Chris Hurt, Halls
Rep. Justin Lafferty, Knoxville
Rep. John Ragan, Oak Ridge
Rep. Jay Reedy, Erin
Rep. Chris Todd, Jackson
Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, Lancaster
Rep. Jason Zachary, Knoxville

Speaker Casada, a Republican from Williamson County, has been embroiled for nearly two weeks in a sexting scandal that includes his former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren who has resigned. The former top aide also admits he used cocaine while working in his state office. He also sent out racially insensitive texts, some of which also went to the Speaker. Casada and Cothren are also embroiled in an investigation by a special prosecutor from the Nashville’s D.A.’s office to see if they tried to frame a Nashville civil rights activist who’s been at odds with the Speaker.

Casada spent this past week continuing to apologize for his actions but insisting he will not step down. The Speaker’s insistence continues even after his Senate counterpart, Lt. Governor Randy McNally, said Casada should “vacate” his post, and Governor Bill Lee said if Casada worked for him, he would be fired. Even former Governor Bill Haslam is speaking out, telling WBIR in Knoxville: "I think Glen has to ask himself is remaining in position as speaker the best thing for the state. It’s hard for me to see how that would be true."

Casada spent this past week continuing to apologize for his actions but insisting he will not step down. The Speaker’s insistence continues even after his Senate counterpart, Lt. Governor Randy McNally, said Casada should “vacate” his post, and Governor Bill Lee said if Casada worked for him, he would be fired. Even former Governor Bill Haslam is speaking out, telling WBIR in Knoxville: "I think Glen has to ask himself is remaining in position as speaker the best thing for the state. It’s hard for me to see how that would be true."

Other prominent former GOP officials are also calling for Casada to go.
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/capitol-hill/former-gop-congressman-former-governor-call-for-casada-to-resign

I am pretty sure the Speaker still doesn’t see himself resigning. Earlier this week, after the State Legislature’s Black Caucus became one of the latest groups to call him to resign, Speaker Casada offered this rather lame defense. From the ASSOCIATED PRESS:

““I think that it’s important that I stay because if two texts run someone out of office, then there is no one qualified,” Casada told reporters of two recently revealed text threads. “We’ve got members all across the community that have done things that are not excusable and they’re still in leadership roles. I did those two texts. I’ve sought and received forgiveness for it, and so now it’s time to put the House back together.”

Casada says he supports calling the special Caucus meeting, but the Speaker seems to be pushing against a rising tide, and against a continuing onslaught of new revelations and negative news stories. They all seem to broaden the scandal and further undermine his leadership. Here’s a sample of the headlines and the new stories now coming to light.

Speaker Casada used tax dollars for attack on Rep. Byrd accusers
(Note: Byrd is a GOP lawmaker accused of past sexual assaults involving then teen-age girls on the basketball team he coached)
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/speaker-casada-used-tax-dollars-for-attack-on-rep-byrd-accusers

Group asks DA to investigate Casada's political ads
(related to Representative Byrd controversy)
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/capitol-hill/group-asks-da-to-investigate-casadas-political-ads

Political consultant hired as a legislative aide by House Speaker Glen Casada resigns
(also related to Representative Byrd controversy)
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/16/glen-casada-political-consultant-hired-legislative-aide-house-speaker-resigns/3694848002/

Casada political operative resigns after NC5 investigation
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/capitol-hill/casada-political-operative-resigns-after-nc5-investigation
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/capitol-hill/casada-political-operative-resigns-after-nc5-investigation

Casada operative flips, sides with women accusing lawmaker of sexual assault
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/casada-operative-flips-sides-with-women-accusing-lawmaker-of-sexual-assault

Glen Casada used state plane for 5 trips in 3 months. His predecessor used it twice in 8 years
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/14/glen-casada-state-plane-more-than-predecessor-tennessee-house-speaker/1163983001/

After bragging about sex at Party Fowl, former chief of staff's tab may have been paid by Glen Casada donors
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/15/glen-casadas-pac-may-have-paid-cade-cothrens-party-fowl-bathroom-visit/3677874002/

Glen Casada donors mum on whether they still support embattled lawmaker
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/williamson/2019/05/16/glen-casada-donors-tennessee-house-speaker/3669157002/

Leaked Texts Show TN House Speaker Casada Joking About Age Of Consent
https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/glen-casada-leak-text-age-of-consent

Glen Casada's leadership under scrutiny as lawmakers say he created environment of fear
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/12/glen-casada-scandal-tennessee-house-speaker-environment-fear/1154463001/

Republican demands that Casada resign, cites effort to 'rig' ethics report
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/ethics-committee-member-demands-that-speaker-casada-resign-citing-heart-of-misrepresentation

Rep. Carter: If ethics panel is not 'above rank political maneuvering and conniving then we as a body are lost'
https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2019/may/17/rep-carter-if-ethics-panel-not-above-rank-political-maneuvering-and-conniving-then-we-body-are-lost/494863/

Former Tennessee top aide to stay on payroll until July
https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Former-Tennessee-top-aide-to-stay-on-payroll-13853520.php
https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/Former-Tennessee-top-aide-to-stay-on-payroll-13853520.php

Where does the Speaker stand in terms of support going into next Monday’s Republican Caucus meeting? One House member says Casada doesn’t have the numbers to survive.
https://dailymemphian.com/section/metro/article/5055/Republican-rep-says-Casada-support-dwindling-to-fewer-than-fifth-of-House

The number of lawmakers calling for Casada to leave keeps rising. THE TENNESSEAN has been posting an ongoing, updated story on who is speaking out in opposition or support of Casada among House members and who isn’t saying much of anything.

It is interesting reading, particularly when you scroll down to the end of the article. That’s where there is a very long list of more than 40 GOP House members (many of them first term lawmakers) who have not said anything on the matter.

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/09/glen-casada-tennessee-house-speaker-turmoil/1145444001/

One of those first term Republicans who hasn’t spoken out on the Casada scandal is Representative Esther Helton. She did tell the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS regarding what may happen at the Monday GOP Caucus meeting: "There's information that has not been made public that may change public opinion."

Really? It may be hard to know that. The Caucus meeting will be closed both to the media and the public. It appears any vote may be taken by secret ballot. As of Thursday, the secret session will be held off site, away from Capitol Hill. But no one knows where. The TENNESEE JOURNAL ON THE HILL blog reports: “Some members have been told they could be required to check their mobile phones at the door for fear of details being leaked to public.”

How’s that for open government and transparency?

THE MOST AWESOME AND MOST AGONIZING POWER A GOVERNOR HAS

Dating back to the days of the English kings, a sovereign has a near absolute power to commute, grant clemency, even pardon those convicted of capital crimes carrying a punishment of death.
Here in Tennessee, even after a 40-year hiatus from executions, this USA TODAY-TENNESSEE article outlines the agonizing choices past Governors and their staffs and advisors had to deal with just contemplating what is the right time and reason to intervene, even when no executions were imminent.

https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/15/tennessee-governors-recall-death-penalty-decisions/1189187001/

Governor Bill Lee faced his first execution this week. He decided not to intervene to stop the lethal injection death of Donnie Edward Johnson on Thursday. Johnson, 68, was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of his wife, Connie Johnson. He suffocated her by stuffing a trash bag down her throat.

Gov. Bill Lee announced Tuesday he would not intervene to stop the execution. No other legal challenges remain, which made Johnson's death a certainty. There had been an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by several Tennessee prison inmates, including Johnson, challenging the state’s method of lethal injection. It was rejected, and Johnson did not pursue any other last -minute appeals. Johnson did not request a special last meal Thursday. Instead he urged supporters to feed the homeless.

The Governor’s announcement to not intervene did not share much rationale for the decision. His statement simply said:

““After a prayerful and deliberate consideration of Don Johnson‘s request for clemency, and after a thorough review of the case, I am upholding the sentence of the State of Tennessee and will not be intervening.”

There had been some hope by death penalty opponents that things might go differently with Governor Lee. Even one of the victim’s children joined in requesting clemency. Reported NEWSCHANNEL5.

“Attorneys for Johnson had submitted a unique clemency appeal to the governor, appealing to his Christian faith rather than arguing a legal aspect of his conviction. Johnson’s supporters say the death row inmate has transformed himself behind bars, ministering to other inmates and becoming an elder in the Seventh-day Adventist church – the only such elder in the world on death row.

A flurry of additional letters sent to Lee this week – including one from the head of the Seventh-day Adventist church – failed to convince Lee to spare Johnson’s life.

Rev. Charles Fels released the following statement in response on behalf of Don Johnson's clemency team:

"Don Johnson has shown he is a person who is deserving of mercy. Although we appreciate Governor Lee and his staff for carefully considering our application for clemency for Don, we, along with thousands of Christians in Tennessee and around the world, are deeply saddened by today’s decision. Also disappointed are thousands of citizens who had hoped that Governor Lee would use his unique constitutional clemency power to consider matters that no court could, including moral transformation, forgiveness, and the entire positive arc of Don’s life after 1984.

We respect the Governor’s decision, and Don accepts it as God’s will.

Don is at peace and accepts the call to a new life in Christ. He prays for the Governor, the Warden and his staff, Connie, Cynthia and Jason and for all those who he has injured in the past. Don gives thanks to the many Christian friends who have supported him for many decades. He gives particular thanks to the pastors and people of Riverside Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church who ordained, supported and loved him in his journey, and to the Dysinger family who have been with him in song and in prayer for the past 15 years. Don’s faith is strong, and he knows where his journey leads.”
But some death penalty advocates did come to the State Capitol Wednesday to continue to press Governor Lee on the death penalty issue. They wanted him to pray with Don Johnson before he was executed. That did not occur.

Johnson issued his own statement on Wednesday, the day before his execution. He asked for forgiveness saying: “I was not a man, but a monster.”
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/05/15/donnie-johnson-asks-forgiveness-tennessee-execution/3682671002/

In his final moments, Johnson sang hymns and quoted the Bible.
https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/news/2019/05/16/don-johnson-execution-last-words-include-i-commend-my-life-into-your-hands/3685369002/

Johnson is the fourth condemned man to die in Tennessee since August 2018 when the state began executing inmates at a steady clip. If rehabilitation is any criteria for a governor to use in commuting, pardoning or granting clemency to an inmate facing the death penalty, Johnson would seem to be a prime candidate to receive it, given his changed life behind bars. The fact that that did not happen cannot give any comfort to the dozens of other inmates who remain on Tennessee’s Death Row.

Johnson is the fourth condemned man to die in Tennessee since August 2018 when the state began executing inmates at a steady clip. If rehabilitation is any criteria for a governor to use in commuting, pardoning or granting clemency to an inmate facing the death penalty, Johnson would seem to be a prime candidate to receive it, given his changed life behind bars. The fact that that did not happen cannot give any comfort to the dozens of other inmates who remain on Tennessee’s Death Row.

NASCAR ROUNDS THE TURN ONE MORE TIME

After months of apparently unsuccessful negotiations with the administration of Mayor David Briley, developers, who want to bring NASCAR back to Nashville, took a revised proposal to the Metro Fair Board this week.

Any public funding, and how that might be structured, remains a major question There are also so many other potential issues involved, including whether there is even enough room to even physically accommodate a renovated, expanded Fairgrounds Raceway, it’s hard to figure out where this matter is headed.
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/05/14/speedway-motorsports-makes-public-pitch-bring-nascar-nashville-fairground/1169697001/

There is a bill now before the Metro Council that would help NASCAR protecting the setbacks from the historic Speedway from any other development. But the measure may just before another issue to fight over in this controversy.

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/05/16/nascar-nashville-metro-council-parking-proposal-fairgrounds/3685638002/

MORE NASHVILLE SPORTS DEVELOPMENTS

The group seeking to bring a Major League baseball to Nashville postponed its announced meeting with the MLB Commissioner which was set for this week. While reportedly the session will occur later this summer, it appears it was put off because the league is still working out some issues surrounding existing franchises and doesn’t yet have strategy or timetable for expansion, although Nashville remains on its list for possible new teams.

https://ballparkdigest.com/2019/05/16/nashville-mlb-meeting-postponed/

One thing appears fairly certain, the National Hockey League Nashville Predators will be staying in town at Bridgestone Arena for another 30 years. We briefly mentioned this new lease last week in Capitol View. Now more details are known.

The agreement has been negotiated with the team by Nashville Mayor David Briley. It still requires approval by the city’s Sports Authority and the Metro Council. But the Mayor seems very upbeat saying the lease is a “a great moment for our city.” The lease also could portend how Nashville will handle its other professional sports franchises going forward.
https://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2019/05/16/nashville-predators-lease-agreement-bridgestone-arena-david-briley/3679035002/
http://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/26762562/preds-nashville-reach-30-year-lease-extension
https://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/news/2019/05/16/what-the-predators-new-lease-means-for-future.html
https://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/news/2019/05/16/what-the-predators-new-lease-means-for-future.html

HERE’S A LAWSUIT THAT COULD BLOW UP THE COURTHOUSE

Lawsuits are certainly not court decisions, but this legal filing could turn the Metro Courthouse upside down if it prevails.
Vacating the city’s environmental court on constitutional, or other perhaps more technical grounds, could put in question millions of dollars in fines.
It will likely take months if not years to litigate the suit which also claims the environmental court is unfair to the city’s poor. Still, for a community that continues to struggle to get the revenues it needs to operate a growing city, watch this court case closely.
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/05/15/nashville-environmental-court-unconstitutional-lawsuit-says/3664465002/

PAY AND OTHER ISSUES CONTINUE TO FESTER IN METRO BUDGET CONSIDERATION

Metro teachers are not giving up on their efforts to get a 10% pay raise this year rather than the 3% suggested by Mayor Briley in his proposed Metro budget. After two recent days of “sick outs” that saw between 900-1000 teachers ask for substitutes to cover their classes, now for Thursday May 16, teachers are announcing a “Day of Action.” More than 1,000 teachers are leaving the classroom to participate in a number of protest-related activities.

https://tntribune.com/community/local/nashville/mnps-teachers-call-for-day-of-action-on-5-16-19/
https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/pith-in-the-wind/article/21068852/mnps-teachers-plan-sickout-march-ahead-of-budget-hearing

That’s what was planned. This is how it went when Nashville teachers took to the streets downtown.

https://www.newschannel5.com/news/more-than-1-000-mnps-teachers-absent-today-as-sick-outs-continue

As I mentioned in last week’s Capitol View columns some of these protest efforts remind me of what unhappy Metro workers did back in the 1970s and early 1980s to express their displeasure. They were not all that successful back then. Will things be different now?
And there is this NEWSCHANNEL5 story about what privatizing the city’s on street parking system could mean if the budget-related proposal put forward by the Briley administration is approved by the Metro Council. Think Barnacle.

https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/nashville-drivers-to-pay-more-in-fines-under-mayors-parking-plan

The Briley administration did get one piece of positive news as a rival firm seeking to purchase the city’s on street parking system lost a round in its appeal to void the Metro contract.

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/05/14/nashvilles-private-parking-deal-board-denies-rival-companys-appeal/1132206001/

There is opposition to the on-street parking privation plan. But one anti-effort appears to be more manufactured or fake than real. This NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES story by Jennifer Kraus does a great job of exposing this con job. But the question remains who is behind this?

https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/mystery-man-tries-to-stop-metros-plan-to-privatize-parking

Finally the city’s transit service, WeGo, says it’s been shorted more than $8 million in Mayor Briley’s budget. Officials say that means service cuts, and even a fare hike will be necessary, without more money allocated by the Council.

https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/nashville-may-cut-bus-service-and-raise-fares-because-budget-shortfall#stream/0

AN INTERESTING MAYORAL ENDORSEMENT
Thursday was the qualifying deadline for candidates who want to run in the August 1st election for Nashville mayor, vice mayor and all 40 Metro Council seats (35 district seats, 5 at-large positions elected city-wide).

There were no last- minute surprises in the mayoral field (although the withdrawal deadline is next Thursday May 23). There was this week a very interesting and perhaps significant endorsement in the mayor’s race (if you think endorsements carry much weight with voters these days).

Mega-real estate and media mogul Bill Freeman finished a competitive third in the mayoral race four years ago (2015). Some supporters asked him to run again this year. But Freeman declined, as he did in 2018, when supporters also wanted him to be a candidate in the special mayoral election.
Bill Freeman is endorsing incumbent Mayor David Briley. He endorsed Briley in last year’s special election. Freeman outlines his thinking in a column printed in this week’s NASHVILLE SCENE and posted on the publication’s web site.

https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/letters/article/21068646/from-bill-freeman

There are lot of candidates and therefore a lot of moving pieces and parts in the council races. So I will refrain from any general overview of those contests (and the vice mayor’s race) until next week when the field of candidates becomes final.

There are lot of candidates and therefore a lot of moving pieces and parts in the council races. So I will refrain from any general overview of those contests (and the vice mayor’s race) until next week when the field of candidates becomes final.

CHARLIE

We have lost one of Nashville’s finest public officials with the passing of Charlie Cardwell this week at the age of 83.

As the city’s longest tenured employee at 60 years (dating back to before the founding of Metro government in 1963), his service to the old city of Nashville, to Metro and to the State was outstanding. He was a great public servant and an even better person and friend.

I first met Charlie 30 years ago when he was City Treasurer. Mayor Fulton appointed him to serve on the city’s negotiating team with Metro employee groups. At the time, it was a tough, high profile post but he did it so well that, within a few years, he became Mayor Fulton’s top department head as Metro Finance Director.

He later served as Deputy Mayor as well as Revenue Commissioner under Governor Ned Ray Wherter. In 1993, Charlie was selected by the Metro Council to replace Bill Garrett as Metro Trustee when the incumbent died in office. The voters then elected Charlie seven times to continue in that four -year post, which oversees the collection of property taxes. As a tribute to what a good job Charlie did, I don’t remember him ever being opposed for re-election.

He was one of those rare government officials who seemed tougher about spending the taxpayer’s money than he was his own.

Rest in Peace, Charlie. Prayers of comfort to your family who are still mourning the loss of your wife Marie just two months ago. The TENNESSESSEAN article said Charlie died from complications from a heart attack. But to those of us who knew Charlie and knew how important Marie was in Charlie’s life, you have to wonder if he’d didn’t pass away as well with a broken heart.

FOREIGN POLICY DOMINATES INSIDE POLITICS THIS WEEK

As the nation begins to focus more and more with each passing month on the 2020 elections and domestic politics, this also appears to be an extraordinarily active time in U.S. foreign policy for the administration of President Donald Trump. To put all that activity in perspective and context, we are pleased to welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS, Dr. Thomas Schwartz of Vanderbilt University.

From the trade war with China to increased tensions with Iran, issues throughout the Middle East, Venezuela and North Korea, we’ll talk about each of those topics and more. Join us!
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

7:00 p.m. Friday;
5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday;
1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

Because of some requests, I will also start posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday).