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Capitol view commentary: Friday, May 24, 2019

Capitol View
Posted at 11:27 AM, May 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-24 12:27:44-04

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
May 24, 2019


It sure took a while for embattled Tennessee Republican State House Speaker Glen Casada to take the hint.

Surely he knows, or at least suspects, he is now a “dead man walking” politically. But maybe not.

After three weeks of intense controversy, and an overwhelming bi-partisan call from nearly the entire Tennessee political structure for him to leave, Casada says he will consider how to make his exit from leadership in early June after he returns from an already scheduled trip to Europe.

“When I return to town on June 3, I will meet with Caucus leadership to determine the best date for me to resign as Speaker so that I can help facilitate a smooth transition," he says.
Lawmakers need Casada’s help on how to make a smooth transition to select a new Speaker? Really? Speaker Casada and the taxpayers of Tennessee need him to stay on the government payroll while he takes a European vacation? Why?

Even though it appears Casada’s time as Speaker (less than 6 months) will among the shortest in state history, he’s been pretty expensive for taxpayers.

Just in case you’ve been out of touch in a big way since the beginning of May, Casada’s leadership exit follows revelations of inappropriate sexist and racist text messages and other alleged scandals. At first, Casada lied and denied all of it, insisting he would not resign. But now, he will. I guess.

Here’s how the story broke on Tuesday morning.

Casada’s announcement on Tuesday followed a disastrous Monday for him. It included a two-hour closed- door session by Republican lawmakers. That’s when the Speaker’s 73-member Super Majority GOP House Caucus voted, by secret ballot and by a nearly two to one majority (45-24). that it has “no confidence” in him.

The Casada controversy exploded on the last day of the legislative session (May 2) when reports surfaced of inappropriate sexist and racist text messages he received and exchanged with a top aide. Casada’s Chief of Staff Cade Cothren resigned after also admitting to using cocaine while working in his legislative office, as well as propositioning legislative lobbyists and interns. Cothren and Casada are also part of a probe looking into an effort to frame a civil rights activist who has been at odds with the Speaker.

Within hours following the Monday ‘no confidence” vote, Casada’s entire leadership team joined together to call for him to resign, including Majority Leader William Lamberth. Even before the vote, the second in command in the House, Knoxville Representative and speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn had called for Casada to leave. Now the rest of the GOP House leadership said the same thing. That included:

Rep. Cameron Sexton (Caucus Chairman)
Rep. Ron Gant (Assistant Majority Leader)
Rep. Matthew Hill (Deputy Speaker)
Rep. Chris Todd (Freshman Leader)
Rep. Rick Tillis (Majority Whip)
Rep. Paul Sherrell (Majority Floor Leader)
Rep. Clay Doggett (Majority Secretary)
Rep. Mark Cochran (Majority Treasurer)

To add still more political pressure for Casada to go, Governor Bill Lee, who earlier said that if Casada worked for him he would ask him to resign, announced Monday afternoon he was ready to call a special session of the full General Assembly to oust Casada from his speaker post if he didn’t quit by the end of June.
Even the Tennessee Republican State Party finally spoke out. Party Chair Scott Golden joined the chorus for Casada to resign. But for a few hours longer on Monday, Casada remained defiant about staying on.

“I’m disappointed in the results... .,” Casada said in a statement after the caucus vote, unprecedented in the modern era of Tennessee politics. “However, I will work the next few months to regain the confidence of my colleagues so we can continue to build on the historic conservative accomplishments of this legislative session.”

But as reality continued to set in, Casada finally announced his still-to-come departure Tuesday. However, it’s only from the Speaker’s chair. The Republican lawmaker apparently plans to continue representing his Williamson County constituents, unless he resigns his seat, he is recalled, or there is a move among lawmakers statewide to oust him from his position.

Indeed, some lawmakers are moving ahead to call a special session to remove Casada as a legislator too.

There are also those in Casada’s district who also want him to step down as their representative.

As somewhat indefinite as it is, Casada’s departure from leadership was well received from the state’s top two Republicans. Why? Well, Casada’s leaving is the right thing to do, and at least a step in the right direction. But It’s also perhaps a way for GOP leaders to limit any long- term damage to the Republican Party left by the Casada scandal.

Said Governor Lee: “Speaker Casada has made the right decision, and I look forward to working with the legislature to get back to conducting the people’s business and focusing on the issues that matter most to our state,” Lee said in a statement.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) also lauded the decision.

“Speaker Casada announcing his intent to resign is the right decision for the legislature, the Republican Party and the state,” McNally said. “I commend him for it. Now we move forward. I am committed to working with leadership in the House to help restore the trust that has been lost in any way I can.”

There is already media speculation about the possible long and short-term impacts of the Casada scandal on Tennessee and Republican politics.

Another potential casualty of the Casada scandal is Republican representative David Byrd of Waynesboro. Byrd has been dogged for over a year about charges that three decades ago he sexually assaulted some of his female basketball players while he was their coach. The victims and their supporters have held numerous protests on the Hill demanding Byrd resign.

Speaker Casada for months defended Byrd, even made him an education sub-committee chairman, before they fell out with each other after Byrd voted against the school voucher plan that Casada supported. Then the Speaker stripped Byrd of his leadership post.

One of Byrd’s alleged victims met with Governor Lee, although he has been quiet about whether he believed her story or what Byrd should do. Now along with two other top GOP lawmakers, the Governor is speaking out.

There has also been speculation that Governor Lee’s signature legislative achievement, the establishment of a pilot program for school vouchers in Memphis and Nashville, might have turned out differently if the Casada scandal had come to light earlier. Reportedly, the FBI has been conducting a preliminary inquiry into how the voucher bill passed in the House.

Of course, this embarrassing story is everywhere in the national media. Here is a sample of some of the story links from a variety of prominent media outlets.

The man most likely to replace Casada as speaker, at least temporarily, Knoxville representative and Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn says he will “return boredom” to the House.

It is not clear if either Governor Lee or lawmakers themselves will call a special session to select a new speaker. And no one knows when any special session would be held until the soon-to-be ex-Speaker returns from his overseas adventures to begin to consider when he will depart.

It does appear when there is a vacancy, there are plenty of lawmakers who want the job.

Already the in-fighting among the potential Speaker candidates is emerging as well as some negative stories about their activities.

And asks THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL ON THE HILL blog: What happened to the 24 GOP House members who voted that they still have confidence in Speaker Casada? Who are they and why are they now so quiet?

Here’s one bottom line on the Casada scandal. As happens so often, the cover up for what happened winds up being as damaging, if not more so, than what occurred. Politicians should learn to tell the truth when they get caught doing bad things. Lying about it just makes thing worse, even if you flee to Europe. Eventually, Mr. Speaker, you have to come home to face the consequences.


It has become traditional for Tennessee’s First Ladies to promote a special cause while their husbands are in office.

For Maria Lee, wife of Governor Bill Lee, that cause will be promoting volunteerism.

It is all part of Tennessee Serves, an effort to encourage adults and children around the state to spend time volunteering in their communities.

It is an effort the First Lady has already begun, concentrating on the state’s most distressed counties. Here is some media coverage and a website and video to learn more, including how you can get involved.


Nashville and the other major cities in Tennessee were sites for pro-choice protests held across the nation this week. The events were in opposition to recent anti-abortion laws approved in at least 8 states (several of which border Tennessee). These new laws greatly restrict access to abortion. Tennessee considered at least one such proposal during its recently concluded session. It would have banned an abortion after less than 2 months of pregnancy which is often before a woman even knows she is expecting.

These new abortion bans seemed aimed at getting a case or cases before the courts (there are already lawsuits) in order to get a matter as quickly as possible in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. The current High Court, bolstered by two new conservative justices nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Republican U.S. Senate, make it more likely the established law regarding reproductive rights, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, will be modified or even overturned.

Tennessee lawmakers did pass a new law this session that if Roe v. Wade is changed or repealed, almost all access to abortion will be illegal in the state. The General Assembly considered passing the very restrictive “heartbeat bill” I mentioned earlier. The House did pass it. But Lt. Governor and Senate Speaker Randy McNally, and others in the upper chamber, were fearful the proposal would be overturned in the lower courts, leaving state taxpayers to pay all the legal bills.

But with 2020 being an election year, will Tennessee GOP lawmakers stay on the sidelines? If the heartbeat bill comes back (and most likely it will), can protestors manage a larger crowd than relatively small one they generated at the Capitol this week?


With now more than 25 candidates now seeking the party’s nomination, you’d expect to see presidential hopefuls coming to Tennessee even though the state hasn’t voted blue in a race for the White House in almost a quarter century (1996).

This week, both former HUD Secretary and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and Democratic front runner and former Vice President Joe Biden, were in the state. Castro spoke at Middle Tennessee University while Biden was in Nashville raising money with the best Democratic fundraiser in Tennessee, Nashville businessman, Bill Freeman. A few weeks back, Senator Elizabeth Warren was also in town.

While Biden has held several large rallies across the country to kick off his campaign, he didn’t do that here. He spoke only to those who paid some big bucks to attend his reception. Media coverage was done by a reporter poll with no cameras. Despite making it hard on himself, there was news coverage of Biden’s visit.


The final numbers are in. Nashville’s hosting of the National Football League Annual Player Draft has smashed all the multi-day event records for Nashville and for the event itself.

And those cities set to host future NFL Drafts are hoping they can do as well.

The success of the NFL Draft is just another indication of how Nashville has become, and relishes, being the “It City” a nickname hung on our community a few years back by THE NEW YORK TIMES. But has the term outlived its usefulness? Steve Cavendish, former editor of the NASHVILLE SCENE and a keen observer of our city, says it’s time to retire our “It City” moniker because Nashville is now a different town and the nickname no longer fits.


It is completely predictable politically.

Mayor Briley’s plan to privatize the city’s on street parking system is drawing fire from those running against him for re-election and from those supporting Briley’s opponents.
Steve Smith is a prominent downtown businessman and the owner of several honky tonks on Lower Broadway. Smith has been a big Briley critic for months. He supports Carol Swain for mayor. This week, Smith joined her in speaking out in opposition to the parking plan.

Another Briley opponent State Representative John Ray Clemmons has also spoken out for weeks against the plan. The proposal passed a perfunctory first-reading approval vote by the Metro Council on Tuesday. Usually first reading votes are unanimous and without debate. It handled rountinely to get the bill into committee for consideration and debate.

But not last Tuesday night when 8 councilmembers asked to be recorded as voting no on the parking bill. It appears Mayor Briley has some work to do if he hopes to have at least 21 yes votes when the bill comes up for final approval towards the end of June.

In the Council itself, there’s another Briley mayoral opponent, At Large Councilman John Cooper, who is expected to lead opposition to the parking change. Mayor Briley says his plan will modernize the city’s parking system and generate over $300 million for the city over the next 30 years, including $30 million for Metro’s budget this coming year.


Former NASHVILLE SCENE editor and publisher Bruce Dobie is conducting another of his Nashville political Power Polls. This one focuses on the Mayor’s race.

Here’s what he reported as of Friday A.M.:

Whom are you voting for in the Aug. 1 election for mayor?
Preliminary Results
Carol Swain: 13 (3%)
Don't know yet: 55 (13%)
John Cooper: 97 (24%)
David Briley: 229 (56%)
John Ray Clemmons: 17 (4%)

Who do you think will place first in the election?
Preliminary Results
David Briley: 322 (78%)
John Cooper: 45 (11%)
Don't know yet: 36 (9%)
John Ray Clemmons: 5 (1%)
Carol Swain: 3 (1%)

Do you think one of the candidates will capture over 50% of the vote and avoid a runoff?
Preliminary Results
Yes: 155 (38%)
No: 188 (46%)
Don't know yet: 68 (17%)

In some ways the poll results seem odd to me. But in another way, they may be close to being on target.

A majority of those voting in the poll, mostly a mix of Nashville business, media, government and community leaders, say they support Briley (56%). 78% say they think he will win or finish first. But only 37% say he will win without a runoff. That sounds like a bit of a mixed endorsement for the incumbent.

As for the poll being on target? I can’t name the source, but one very well-connected person I spoke to about 3 weeks ago says the polling he has seen finds Carol Swain still where she was in the results of last May’s special mayor’s race (in the mid-20s). It finds John Cooper in mid-single digits. John Ray Clemmons is not a factor this source says. This source believes Briley will win the election and maybe without a runoff. But if there is a second race, this source says Cooper is the more likely runoff opponent if his campaign can get moving.
Stay tuned.


Last week when discussing the new 30 year lease the Briley administration has negotiated to keep the NHL’s Nashville Predators in Smashville, I said it would require approval from the Metro Council. I am told that is wrong. The lease only requires approval by the city’s Sports Authority. I stand corrected.


The field for the August 1st Metro election for Mayor, Vice Mayor and Metro Council is set.

There are 110 candidates seeking office to be mayor (10), vice mayor (2) and for the 5 at-large (15 candidates) and 35 district seats (83 candidates). That’s an overall lower number of candidates than in Metro elections past.

There was one unexpected development in the final days before the candidate withdrawal deadline passed on Thursday. Metro Councilmember At Large Erica Gilmore has decided to withdraw from a race for vice mayor. Instead, she will seek selection by the Metro Council to fill the vacancy left by the recent death of Metro Trustee Charlie Cardwell.

The Council is set to make that choice next month. The person chosen will serve in the Trustee post until August of next year. That’s when voters will decide who will complete the remaining two years left in Mr. Cardwell’s term of office.

The Gilmore decision is obviously a last minute one. I am told she first announced it to supporters at an event called to kick off her vice mayoral bid. That must have been surprising, even awkward for some in attendance.

Gilmore’s decision to stand for the Trustee post is also drawing flak from one of her fellow council members, Jacobia Dowell. Dowell is also gauging interest among her colleagues about seeking the Trustee appointment. Both are calling council members, some of whom are offended the appointment is being discussed now.

Charlie Cardwell received the rare, but well- deserved honor this week to lie in state at the Metro Courthouse. He is only the fourth individual to be recognized in that manner. The others include Nashville Mayor Hillary Howse, who died in office shortly after the Courthouse opened in 1940; Metro Mayor Beverly Briley when he died in 1980 after leaving office; and State Supreme Court Chief Justice A.A. Birch when he passed in 2011. Justice Birch was the first African American to serve in that post after also being the first African American General Sessions and Criminal Court Judge in Nashville. Birch is the only person in Tennessee history to serve in every level of the state's judiciary

Charlie Cardwell’s services are set for next week. He has received many wonderful tributes in the local media for his many years of service and the kind of special person he was.

Not to take sides in this appointment controversy, but the scramble for Council appointments such as this have been going on for years. I can recall as far back as 1975 when a long time County Clerk passed away unexpectedly while out of the city, council members complained to me they were getting calls to line up votes for the appointment “even before the body (of the late county clerk) had come back to town.” And so it goes even today.


The withdrawal of Erica Gilmore significantly increases the chances incumbent Vice Mayor Jim Schulman will win re-election. He now faces just one opponent, Robert Sawyers, Sr., who appears to be a political unknown.

As for the rest of the Council races:

Nine of the 35 district races are unopposed. Seven involve incumbents (Brett Withers in District 6; Larry Hagar in District 11; Kevin Rhoten in District 14; Jeff Syracuse in District 15; Colby Sledge in District 15; Kathleen Murphy in District 24 and Russ Pulley in District 25). Two other unopposed races will see new council members (Robert Nash in District 27 and John Rutherford in District 31) elected. The number of races unopposed is a bit above average, compared to previous Council elections.

There are also 13 district Council races that are head-to-head contests between just two candidates. That means, added to the 9 uncontested contests, we will have elected more than half the Council (at least 22) on August 1st. For those so concerned about “voter fatigue” because of runoff elections, we may not have quite as many this year. In one head to head race involving an incumbent there could also be a residency challenge mounted by the incumbent.

There will still likely be runoffs in several districts. The District 7 council race in the Inglewood area has eight people seeking that seat. District 2 in Northwest Nashville and District 30 in southern Davidson County each have 4 candidates.

Among incumbents, Councilman Ed Kindall faces the most challengers in a five-way race for District 21. There are 14 incumbents facing opposition.
The At-Large field is smaller than usual with only 15 candidates qualified. I can remember years when the at large list was well into the 20s. Maybe the cost of running countywide is discouraging folks. I can remember when long-time incumbents (the at-large race tends to be one based on name recognition) just gave out yard sticks and emery boards with their names on them. That was it for their re-election campaigns, and they won.

At least 3 of the 5 at- large Council posts are vacant with Jim Schulman, John Cooper and Erica Gilmore now seeking other positions. That leaves only Bob Mendes and Sharon Hurt seeking re-election.
But there are plenty of other familiar names on the at-large ballot.

Term-limited district councilmembers Burkley Allen, Fabian Bedne , Sherri Weiner and Steve Glover are running countywide, as are former at large councilman Adam Dread and former district members Michael Craddock and Gary Moore.

There are others of note in both the at-large fields and among district candidates. At-large council candidate Zulfat Suara is seeking to become the first Muslim elected in Nashville. And Sandra Sepulveda, who is in a four-way contest for Council District 30, is trying to become the first Hispanic woman on the council.

One other at large candidate, Gicola Lane was a leader in the successful ballot effort last year to create the new community oversight board, while former vice mayoral candidate Matt DelRossi, who drew enough support to force a runoff election in last year's special vice mayor's race, is also on the ballot again, running at-large.

Among former councilmembers seeking to return to office are Sherry Jones (District 30), Pam Murray (District 5), Tony Tenpenny (District 16) and former district and at-large councilmember Tim Garrett (District 10).

Add it up, and the overall size of the candidate field is down from previous years, even if you may recognize a few more names on the ballot.

If my math is correct (and it may not be), in terms of new faces guaranteed in the new Council even before any runoffs, or incumbents are defeated August 1, it looks like the “new face” number will be a minimum of 19. That’s a number which could rise after the second round of runoff elections in September. There are 14 council incumbents facing opposition to be re-elected. There are 14 district races without incumbents. As I remember the rookie class in the Council that took office four years ago in 2015, that number was close to 27 or two-thirds of the 40-member body. Right now, it’s less than half which is in line with normal council turnover historically even before term limits were voted in after someone served two consecutive terms.


You can tell we are getting closer to election season.

For one thing, the first televised mayoral debate has been announced. I am happy to say NEWSCHANNEL5 is the TV sponsor and I hope I get play some role in the broadcast.

Nashvillians also love to organize and attend mayoral forums where the candidates answer questions. As the Memorial Day holiday approaches and hot 90-degree weather becomes a daily occurrence, so do these candidate forums, including one of the first such sessions that recently focused on transportation issues.

What to do about the growing number of scooters in Nashville is quickly moving to the top as a hot issue. One At-Large Council candidate Adam Dread made a media splash when he said his top objective, if elected, is to ban scooters. As the number of injuries resulting from scooter crashes continues to rise, along with the death of one young person, calls to ban scooters are also growing, including from the family who lost their loved one. They are starting an on-line petition drive to ban the vehicles, even as Mayor Briley speaking out.

The electric scooter companies are pushing back. They claim their vehicles play an important role in Nashville and banning them is not the answer.


It’s an issue that has flared up several times in recent years. With an increasing number of potentially historic buildings becoming victims of the wrecking ball, how does Nashville preserve its world famous Music Row while also allowing it to continue to prosper and grow.

After a couple of years of study, there is a new plan coming to the Metro Planning Commission next month for consideration and public comment. Here’s an interesting overview and analysis of the situation.


It’s the latest chapter in the never- ending saga surrounding the Tennessee State Fair.

After months of complaining and threatening to move the annual Fair, held each fall in Nashville for generations, organizers found a new location is (surprise, surprise) not easy to find.

So, it was announced this week, the Fair will return to the Fairgrounds, its long time South Nashville home. That property is also becoming the site of tension and competition between NASCAR wanting to return to town at the Raceway there and the new MLS pro soccer team building its new stadium on the same property. Never a dull moment.

One other update on a story we’ve reported on several times in recent months. The efforts by the Nashville Fraternal Order of Police to stop the voter-approved creation of the city’s Community Oversight Board has failed again. This time, the rejection is for good after the Tennessee Supreme Court refused to hear their lawsuit.


With tensions rising in the Middle East especially between the United States and Iraq, this appears to be an excellent time for an encore presentation of our INSIDE POLITICS interview from last February with author Greg Ballard. Ballard is a retired Marine Lt. Colonel and the former Mayor of Indianapolis. He has written a book entitled LESS OIL OR MORE CASKETS, THE NATIONAL SECURITY ARGUMENT FOR MOVING AWAY FROM OIL.

The book raises these provocative questions:

Has the United States been in the Middle East these last few decades to defeat terrorism or to protect our access to the world’s oil supply?

Do Americans actually unwittingly help fund terrorists every time we fill up our cars with gas?

And why is becoming oil-independent not just good for the environment but vital for our national security?

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