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Deputy speaker Hill, Van Huss still supporting Casada as speaker; Faison, Hawk call for his resignation

Zach Vance • Updated May 9, 2019 at 10:07 AM

Northeast Tennessee House members are split over who should lead their chamber into the next session, as controversy surrounding racist and misogynistic text messages, alleged spying and altered emails embroils House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, and his former chief of staff.

Deputy House Speaker Matthew Hill, Micah Van Huss and Bud Hulsey all indicated Wednesday they would continue to support Casada as the House leader, while Reps. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, and David Hawk, R-Greeneville, were swift to call for his resignation, as was his immediate successor, Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.

Rep. John Holsclaw, R-Elizabethton, deferred making a determination on Casada’s future until more facts come out. Reps. Timothy Hill and John Crawford could not be reached for comment.

As the No. 3 person in line for the speakership, Hill said the House Ethics Committee, on which he serves as chairman, would meet next week to investigate Casada’s handling of his former Chief of Staff Cade Cothren, who resigned Monday evening following mounting allegations of misconduct.

According to Hill, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation will investigate allegations that Cothren attempted to frame Nashville activist Justin Jones by altering an email to make it seem like he violated a court order.

According to the Tennessean, Cothren, 32, also had a history of sending sexually explicit text messages and making inappropriate advances toward former interns, lobbyists and campaign staffers. Some of those text messages were sent to Casada.

In July 2016, when Cothren shared a photo of an upside down woman standing next to a pole, Casada referred to the woman as “wife material” before asking “Can I just touch????”

Other news reports alleged Cothren made racist comments, calling black people “idiots.” Cothren was named Casada’s chief of staff in January, earning a $199,800 salary.

Cothren also admitted using cocaine in the legislative offices between 2015 and 2016, while working as press secretary for House Republicans. Hill said the Ethics panel, following an “action plan” created by Casada, would look into implementing a drug testing policy for new legislative staff employees.

As these revelations were disclosed, Casada initially stood by his chief of staff and defended him. Last week, when NewsChannel 5’s Phil Williams first broke the story about Cothren’s text messages, Casada accused the news station of fabricating the story.

Even more allegations surfaced Wednesday as the Tennessean reported Cothren had a live feed in his office allowing him to eavesdrop on committee meeting rooms at all times, not just during official business. White noise machines, used to diminish the ability to record or overhear conversations, were also installed in Casada’s office.

Cothren and Casada have issued apologies, with the House speaker saying he takes “complete ownership” of the text messages involving inappropriate comments about women.

“It’s embarrassing and humbling to have it displayed in this manner. I apologize and hope that my friends, family, colleagues, and constituents find a way to forgive me for it because it is not the person I am and it hasn’t been the way I have conducted myself as Speaker,” the statement read.

Hill said he accepts the speaker’s apology.

“I don’t think what he said in those text messages was appropriate. However, does that disqualify him for holding office? His constituents will decide that. It doesn’t make it right, but we know of individuals and people that, unfortunately, have course language,” Hill said.

In a text message to the Johnson City Press, Van Huss said Casada did the right thing by “asking for Cothren to resign,” adding that he condemns racist organizations, not limited to the “KKK, Neo-Nazis and Black Lives Matter.”

When asked if an investigation should be launched, Van Huss responded, “for locker room talk?”

“Investigations for spying and creating fake emails would be fine. If sexual comments are a disqualification for public office, then no Marine would ever get elected,” Van Huss, who served as a Marine, wrote in the text.

On the other hand, Faison, who has a biracial son, said “locker room talk” is no excuse for the comments made in the texts.

“The person sitting in the car while the bank is being robbed is just as guilty as the bank robber. Racism, objectifying of women, spying and bullying are all evil. You cannot effectively lead and simultaneously be complicit with evil,” Faison wrote on Twitter.

Hawk, who lost his bid for speakership to Casada, was one of the first lawmakers to call for him to step down.

On Monday, when Casada sent an email to House Republicans telling them his Chief of Staff Cade Cothren would resign, Hawk responded, “I suggest you bow out gracefully and resign.”

“After the way Cade has treated some members so poorly, you will not be able to lead us with any sense of confidence in your decision-making,” Hawk wrote to Casada.

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