Rep. White says Speaker’s race needs 'consensus' candidate

If several seek post vacated by Casada, it could complicate things

By Published: June 10, 2019 4:45 PM CT

NASHVILLE – With a jumble of House Republicans taking aim at the House Speaker’s seat, Republican Rep. Mark White says “consensus” candidates are necessary before the vote goes to the floor.

Only three people have officially declared their candidacy for the House Speaker’s post being vacated by Glen Casada, embroiled in a racist and sexist texting scandal and questions about heavy-handed leadership. But several members are being mentioned for the post and more seem to be entering the race almost daily.

Several members are being mentioned for the post and more seem to be entering the race almost daily.

<strong>Mark White</strong>

Mark White

With the list growing, White, of East Memphis, said he has talked to several candidates and urged them to “sit down with each other … and come up with a consensus candidate or two or three.”

Otherwise, the House Republican Caucus, which holds a 73-26 edge over Democrats, will run into a “difficult” time selecting a replacement for Casada, White said.

The chairman of the House Education Committee is amenable to having a special session this summer to select a permanent speaker to replace Casada or allowing House Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn to take the post, as the state Constitution allows.

Sam Stockard: Shelby County Republicans say Casada should leave before Aug. 2 as some angle for earlier special session

Either way, the large number of Speaker candidates, seven or eight, complicates the matter, he said.

Dunn, Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill of Jonesborough and Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah have announced their candidacy, along with newcomer Rep. Robin Smith of Chattanooga, who reportedly is trying to build support among the freshman class. Others mentioned are Rep. Ryan Williams of Cookeville, a former caucus chairman, Republican Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Crossville, Rep. Curtis Johnson of Clarksville, a former speaker pro tem, and Rep. Jerry Sexton of Bean Station, who called for the May 20 meeting that led to a no-confidence vote in Casada.

The caucus is expected to hold a meeting – though a time is not clear yet— and select a nominee for the post. But even if one candidate emerges — typically in a secret ballot — the votes are likely to be split with each one winning anywhere from eight to 12. Under that scenario, in a special session, White said, “it’s going to be very hard to hold everybody together on the House floor as a consensus Republican candidate, because everybody has strong feelings right now.”

With caucus candidates from varying ends of the political spectrum running, members could justify the need to nominate the person they voted for in the caucus meeting when the vote goes to the House floor, especially if votes are spread thin, White said.

Sam Stockard: Leatherwood won’t say how he voted on Casada but likes House leadership direction

The question is: “Are we going to break ranks with the caucus, or are we going to stay together?” White said, noting he would prefer a “consensus candidate” the entire caucus can support.

Coley: Changes are needed

Rep. Jim Coley, who is stepping away from the House in 2020 after finishing this term, said this week he has been lobbied by several candidates. But he sent the message he wants to see several changes, including elimination of bill "kill lists."

“I think we need somebody that’s fair and dispassionate. … Politics is going to be involved in some of the things, but policy needs to guide where we’re going.”
Rep. Jim Coley

The Bartlett Republican, a retired high school history teacher, said he told every candidate he wants to hear their leadership ideas, plans for the caucus and “how they’re going to address a certain number of problems that occurred during (Casada’s) tenure” that he thought were “inappropriate.”

<strong>Jim Coley</strong>

Jim Coley

Casada has been speaker for barely six months. But Coley believes he made several missteps in that time.

Notably, Coley disagreed with Casada’s move to hold the vote board open for 40 minutes in April during a 49-49 vote on Gov. Bill Lee’s education savings account bill. Amid an uproar in the chamber, Casada worked members to try and find another vote, holding private meetings on the balcony outdoors.

Finally, he persuaded Rep. Jason Zachary of Knoxville to change his vote, giving the bill 50 needed for passage, in exchange for the promise Knox County Schools would be removed as one of the systems in which students could qualify for vouchers.

Coley also said he disagreed with Casada’s leadership in the House chamber in “openly censoring” members of the Democratic Caucus because their views were considered “too radical.”

Sam Stockard: Coley looks back on his work after announcing he won’t seek re-election

In addition, he criticized a “kill list” for bills that emanated from the Speaker’s office. Coley said he was told about the list several times and asked to kill some bills but never did it, saying he felt it was wrong.

“I’ve voiced those concerns to everybody I’ve talked to that’s interested in running for Speaker,” Coley said. “I think we need somebody that’s fair and dispassionate. … Politics is going to be involved in some of the things, but policy needs to guide where we’re going.”


Mark White Jim Coley Glen Casada
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter with more than 30 years of journalism experience as a writer, editor and columnist covering the state Legislature and Tennessee politics for The Daily Memphian.

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