KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Randy Ellis is on the Republican State Executive Committee for Tennessee. The group manages some of the administrative work of the state party, including the appointment of a state leader, sets fundraising goals, and work to grow the party.
While they haven’t taken up the issue of whether House Speaker Glen Casada should resign, Ellis believes trust in his leadership has eroded in both parties and that Casada should step down.
“I support Republican candidates across the state, but at some point, we have to put our state above politics and party and this is a situation it’s really dragging everybody down. This is serving as a distraction and we need to move forward as a state and a party,” he said.
He believes the controversy surrounding Casada and his former chief of staff is masking many accomplishments of the GOP-lead legislature and the accomplishments of Governor Bill Lee, in his first year in office. He cited some positives he sees from the previous legislative session:
- Passing a balanced budget unanimously
- Pay raises for teachers
- Adding the division of faith-based and community initiatives to the state government
- A record amount of money allocated toward rainy day fund
“It’s time to focus on what’s better for Tennessee and what’s right for Tennessee instead of one guy trying to cling to power,” Ellis said.
Although it’s been more than 50 years since Victor Ashe served in the state legislature, he remembers it well. Ashe, a former Knoxville mayor and U.S. ambassador to Poland, also has 15 combined years in the state legislature, both in the House and Senate. Ashe said the House speaker is the most important position, by far, in the House or Senate.
Some of their duties, Ashe said, include assigning committees to lawmakers and determining who is recognized to speak.
Ashe also pointed out the speaker is third in line to the governor and carries a lot of influence.
“It’s rare a speaker’s wishes are not honored,” he said.
Despite the power wielded by a house speaker, Ashe said it’s important to be fair to all 99 members, whether you agree or disagree with them politically, as they’re duly elected and entitled to be heard.
Ashe sees his behavior, prior to the text message controversy, to be highly discriminatory and unfair. He cited his treatment of Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), who Casada never called on in on a debate over abortion, where she wanted to propose an amendment to protect women in cases of rape or incest.
Ultimately, Ashe believes Casada should go, as pressure mounts across the state and within his own party.
“We’ve never had this kind of issue with any speaker in my knowledge and I first served 51 years ago, in 1968. We’ve had individual members have issues, behavior issues, but we’ve never had a speaker of either party be questioned as this is occurring,” Ashe said. “it’s time for him to step aside. his usefulness and his credibility, I think, has been destroyed.”
Rep. Johnson said, “It’s embarrassing. It’s hard to do state business when this is happening. “People are coming up to me non-stop (saying) he’s got to go, he’s got to go, the citizens, and these are Republicans. I’m not talking about Democrats. These are Republicans saying he needs to go. So, they (Republican Caucus) need to listen to their constituents.