- Associated Press - Friday, May 10, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Toughening his position, Tennessee Republican Senate Speaker Randy McNally said Friday that embattled GOP House Speaker Glen Casada should resign from his leadership post.

McNally announced that he thinks Casada should step aside but stressed that it’s the House’s decision. He reiterated that stance in a statement later Friday.

“I believe it would be in the best interest of the legislature and the state of Tennessee for Speaker Casada to vacate his office at this time,” he said in a statement, adding that he can only answer honestly when asked for his opinion.

A day earlier, McNally declined to say whether Casada should resign and then later said Casada would likely be asked to resign if he were a senator.

McNally said Friday that his goal over the past few days has been to let the House address its issues without distraction, saying weigh-in from the Senate can be “counterproductive.” He also said he would expect any removal proceedings to include due process.

Republican Gov. Bill Lee also strengthened his criticism of Casada over recently released text messages involving Casada and a former top aide with lewd remarks about women, among other mounting scandals.

Lee said Thursday that, if Casada were in his administration or an executive at Lee’s company, he would ask him to resign.

“Given what has unfolded in the past days, I have a responsibility in the executive branch to speak to what culture should look like, to what the standard that should exist in the executive branch, and I’ve communicated that with my team, and it’s a standard of integrity and honesty and transparency, values and principles that are consistent with Tennesseans,” Lee told reporters.

“And I think some of the events that have come to light in the last several days are not consistent with that. And if an employee in my administration acted in a way that wasn’t consistent to that, then they wouldn’t be in my administration.”

A growing number of Republican lawmakers have called for Casada to step down as speaker, as well as Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups upset with the series of text message scandals that have ranged from Casada’s former chief of staff sending racist messages, accusations of evidence tampering and Casada participating in sexually explicit text messages with his former key staffer.

Casada has pushed back against calls to resign the speakership in recent days. Instead, he released an apology and a four-part “action plan” Wednesday promising it would help regain trust from his members.

“I apologized for the two texts I sent. They were wrong and I was wrong,” Casada told reporters Friday. “But I’ve asked for forgiveness and received forgiveness. My chief of staff has resigned. Those problems are dealt with. And now the House will unify and move forward on addressing those things that need to be addressed and leading the state and making it the best state in the union.”

However, that action plan has already come under scrutiny from House Black Caucus members, who have taken issue with the plan saying the caucus “will be” working with the speaker’s office to create diversity training for members and staff.

The black caucus has had no discussions with Casada and they have made no promise to commit to anything, said Democratic Rep. G.A. Hardaway, the caucus chairman.

Instead, the caucus has promised only to meet with Casada sometime next week.

As of Thursday, Republican Rep. Jason Zachary announced he was formally requesting a special caucus meeting to discuss the direction of the House. Zachary said he and fellow GOP Rep. Jerry Sexton had drafted a letter to send to House leadership Friday.

Zachary’s announcement did not include a call for Casada to resign from his leadership position or his elected position. Casada said Friday that he supports the call for a meeting.

Casada also confirmed a special prosecutor had been appointed by the District Attorneys General Conference to investigate whether his former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, tampered with evidence involving a young activist’s criminal case.

Cothren has been accused of making it look like student activist Justin Jones sent an email to Casada in violation of his bond conditions after his arrest in February during protests at Casada’s office.

Jones has argued that he actually wrote the email to Casada before his arrest and that someone changed the date to make it look like it was afterward.

House speakers in Tennessee serve two years before seeking reelection. Casada has been speaker since January.

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