Local leaders calling for culture shift amid Tennessee House Speaker controversy

Tri-Cities lawmakers are among those sounding off about the scandal that resulted in the resignation of the top legislative aide for the Tennessee Speaker of the House. 

House Speaker Glen Casada said he was wrong to participate in lewd conversations about women with his former Chief of Staff Cade Cothern. 

Cothern resigned Monday amid allegations he sent racist and sexually explicit text messages. 

Casada said he has no intention of resigning during an interview with a Nashville radio station Tuesday. 

Representative David Hawk, a local lawmaker who ran for the position of House Speaker, said Tuesday he’s considering calling for Casada to resign. 

“I’m this close to asking that Speaker Casada resign because my colleagues and I have lost faith that he is making decisions that are the best for our citizens of Tennessee and that worries me,” said Hawk. 

Hawk described the text exchanges between Casada and Cothern as symptoms of a larger problem. 

“I think that the Speaker has shown that he makes some poor decisions in bringing together a staff,”  Hawk said. “He makes poor decisions in standing behind them, even when he has evidence that they’re wrong.”

The man Casada has chosen to replace his former chief of staff is not without controversy. 

Back when current Kingsport Mayorial Candidate Nathan Vaughn was running for a House seat in 2008, Casada’s new chief of staff, Scott Gilmer, was fined $50 on a charge of creating fake political websites using Vaughn’s name. 

Vaughn doesn’t believe the move was racially motivated, though he said the websites spread misinformation and painted him in a negative light.

“It’s so important that we have integrity in our government. That we hire good people of good character and not people that are in any way going to do things to harass or intimidate,” said Vaughn in an interview Tuesday. 

Vaughn said it’s possible that Gilmer has changed since the incident.

He said lawmakers should ask tough questions to ensure that a culture of dirty politics does not continue with Gilmer in a key staffing position. 

“He not only has the responsibility to lead but he also has a responsibility to set the tone and tenor for all of the staff members in the General Assembly,” said Vaughn.

In 2016, Gilmer was also one of several people, including then-Speaker Beth Harwell, accused of workplace abuse. 

Gilmer was Harwell’s chief of staff at the time. 

In a statement following the scandal, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said that those who enter public service have an obligation to hold themselves to a higher standard and maintain an environment with professionalism and respect. 

News Channel 11 has reached out to Casada’s office and emailed Gilmer directly. Both men have yet to respond. 

Learn More: New Casada chief of staff brings history of controversy

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