Tennessee House Republicans have chosen Crossville Republican Cameron Sexton as their next pick for speaker.
The lawmakers held a private caucus meeting this morning to select the person likely to replace outgoing Speaker Glen Casada. After four rounds of voting, Sexton won the nomination and told reporters his first order of business will be to talk to all the members and potentially reconfigure the committees already in place.
During his pitch to fellow lawmakers, Sexton seemed to distance himself from Casada.
"You will never see a 'kill bill list' coming from my office to tell any chairman what to do or what not to do," Sexton said in reference to lawmakers' claims that Casada instructed committee chairmans not to move certain legislation.
Sexton also hinted that he would not have hired embattled employees Cade Cothren, Shawn Hatmaker and Michael Lotfi.
Cothren served as Casada's chief of staff. He resigned earlier this year after racist, sexist and lewd text messages between him and Casada were leaked to the media.
Before resigning, Lotfi served as top aide for Casada and was getting $4,000 a month for a job without clear duties.
Meanwhile, Hatmaker served as a research analyst. But, according to The Tennesseean, he was part of a group of House staffers who lawmakers claim were tasked with monitoring what was being said in the legislative building.
"Those people who have left employment here, will not be coming back if I'm your speaker," Sexton said.
"And there may be some who are here now who would not be here when I become speaker."
Six candidates had been in the running for the spot Casada is stepping away from after a series of scandals. Two were in leadership: Sexton, who's served as chairman of the House Republican Caucus, and Deputy House Speaker Matthew Hill of Jonesboroguh. The list also included Reps. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Curtis Johnson of Clarksville, Ryan Williams of Cookeville and Jay Reedy of Erin.
The formal election for the position of speaker won't take place until at a special session next month. Since Republicans hold a supermajority in the House, they don’t really need support from Democrats to confirm today’s choice.
Casada was not present. The lawmaker will keep his seat as a state representative but agreed to step down from the speakership after racist and sexist text messages between him and his chief of staff were leaked to the media. Questions have also been raised about his spending in office, and whether his office fabricated evidence against a political activist.
Casada has served nearly 20 years in the state House of Representatives and has been a top leader for more than a decade. He became speaker last January, following the retirement of Nashville Republican Beth Harwell.
Sexton received the support from prominent Republicans
Gov. Bill Lee and Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden both said they look forward to working with Sexton. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said Sexton's election marks a new beginning for the House.
"I look forward to working with Cameron Sexton to build upon our success as a majority and secure a better future for the people of Tennessee," McNally said in a statement.
But Democrats said Sexton is not that different from Casada.
"If the people of Tennessee expect anything to be done about vouchers, rural hospital closures, the opioid crisis, or crumbling infrastructure, they should know right now that under Rep. Sexton’s leadership, nothing will get done and the Republican culture of corruption will continue," said Mary Mancini, the chair of the Tennessee Democratic Party.
Sexton voted against Gov. Lee's school voucher bill.