Incoming Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives Glen Casada has pledged not to ask scandal-plagued members to step down until they are found guilty of an ethics violation or crime in a court of law.
This decision effectively shields controversial Republican House member David Byrd, accused of sexually assaulting three members of a high school girls basketball team he coached in the 1980s.
Glen Casada raises standards burden of proof
In an interview with Nashville Public Radio, released on yesterday’s Tri-Star State podcast, Casada made it clear he would not be asking elected representatives to step down because of #MeToo allegations until their guilt had been determined in a court of law.
“There are allegations made all the time,” he said. “And in our political environment, false allegations are made with the hope that a leader would cave and take an allegation over truth.”
When asked by journalist Sergio Martínez-Beltrán in what instances he would ask a fellow legislator to step down, Casada said he would only do so in two instances. Both would afford the accused a day in court before he would take action.
“Proven violation of ethics. That’s usually defined by a court of law. You know you’ve got two or more witnesses, you’ve got eye-witness, you’ve got empirical evidence,” Casada explained before adding, “Or the breaking of civil or criminal law, of course.”
Coach David Byrd is off the hook for now
By arguing that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in court, even when it comes to legitimacy as a legislator, Casada has effectively shielded any member guilty of a wrongdoing that is beyond the reach of the law.
There is at least one legislator who immediately benefits from this position: David Byrd of Wayne County.
Casada’s predecessor as Speaker, Beth Harwell, called on Byrd to quit the House as soon as the story broke. Byrd ignored her and instead announced his intention to stand for reelection.
Caswell, then Majority Leader, defended Byrd. “I do not believe Rep. Byrd should resign from his legislative seat,” Casada said. “Voters will have the opportunity to decide whether to send him back to the General Assembly in just a few short months.”
Voters did emphatically decide to return Byrd to the House. He received 77.8% of the vote in his contest against Democrat Frankie Floied in November.
Despite the election results, the case has continued to attract attention (including an extensive long-form investigation in Mother Jones before Christmas).
The impact of the continued media coverage will be muted thanks to Casada’s statement, however. The allegations so far made public are said to have taken place in the 1980s, meaning the statute of limitations has long since expired. Even if he is guilty, on these specific allegations at least, David Byrd cannot be convicted in court.
Casada has effectively ruled out any House discipline against Byrd even if more compelling evidence arises.
Did Casada’s past experience inform current thinking?
In November 2016 Glen Casada was himself the subject of unwanted allegations: an anonymous video of him in a restaurant talking to a younger woman, apparently implying that he was having an extramarital affair.
The video surfaced while Casada was in a bid to become Republican majority leader. Instead of hurting his campaign, the backlash among fellow legislators appears to have instead helped him win.
Speaking at the time, Representative Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga explained, “I think the caucus resented that at the last second, their coming in and basically trying to affect our caucus election.
“I think it played to Glen’s favor,” he added. “I think it boomeranged the other way and that’s what the caucus said.”
Ineffective as the attempt to smear Casada was at the time, the experience may have shaped how he views allegations against fellow-legislators.
Transparency for some
In his recent interview, Glen Casada stressed that the life he leads is open to scrutiny.
“I live a very open life,” he explained. “Just watch what I do. Watch me in public. I’m very public with my actions and you don’t see me hide. My life is an open life. Just watch how I live.”
Unless they are convicted in a court of law, Casada appears unwilling to insist on the same levels of transparency from his fellow legislators, however.