Tennessee House Speaker's Top Aide Resigns After Accusations of Framing Black Activist and Sending Racist and Sexist Texts

House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, left, talks with Cade Cothren, right, his chief of staff, during a House session in Nashville, Tenn. Cothren has resigned amid allegations of racist and sexually explicit texts.
Photo: Mark Humphrey (FIle, AP Photo)

Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada’s chief of staff, a white man who actually and truly goes by the name Cade Cothren, has resigned amid allegations that he framed a black activist, as well as sent racist and sexually explicit texts, some of which were received by his boss. Cothren announced his resignation on Monday, hours after admitting to using illegal drugs, including snorting cocaine, in his legislative offices.

Yes, it’s astoundingly messy. So, let’s take it slowly.

The first allegation to surface involves Cothren’s participation in framing Justin Jones, a Vanderbilt University divinity student who has protested at the Tennessee State House over a bust honoring a Confederate general, according to ThinkProgress. Tennessee politics being Tennessee politics, the state legislature refused to take down the statue. In February, following a protest at the Capitol, Jones was arrested for assault after a cup was thrown into Speaker Casada’s elevator.

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Because elevators matter more than black lives at the State House, a condition of Jones’ bond was that he was prohibited from contacting Casada. This is where our boy Cade Cothren comes in.

Jones maintains that he’s obeyed the order, but Cothren sent a photo to Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk showing Jones emailed Casada’s office one day after the order was handed down. The problem? Jones’ email records show the email was actually sent on February 25—before his arrest.

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Last week, News Channel 5 Nashville dug into the allegations Jones was framed, and uncovered more bullshit emanating from Casada and Cothren’s corner of the State House, including a false claim that Jones misspelled “capitol” in the email address as an excuse for Cothren not acknowledging a meeting request.

And then, there were the racist texts Cothren sent. In one exchange, he referred to Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston as a “thug nigger.” In another text exchange about education policy, Cothren wrote, “black people are idiots.”

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Of course, that alone wasn’t enough to force Cothren’s resignation, which came after a slew of Cothren’s sexist and sexually explicit text messages were published by The Tennessean on Monday afternoon: texts in which Cothren bragged to his boss about “fucking [a woman] in the bathroom” at a restaurant, asked an intern for oral sex and nude photos, and sought sex with a lobbyist.

As for Casada, it appears he was more than aware of his subordinate’s behavior. Here’s a sample, from the Tennessean:

In August 2016, Cothren texted Casada about a sexual encounter he had with a woman.

“Just so y’all know, I did f—k (woman) in the bathroom at party fowl,” he said, referring to the Party Fowl restaurant. “Will send pictures later.”

Casada responded: “Only gone for 60 seconds,” adding, “R u a minute man???;)”

Cothren said, “Yes, I take after you. Like father like son.”

Casada replied, “Lolol! If I’m happy, then all is good!!!!!”

In a separate 2016 exchange with another person, Casada said, referring to Cothren, “Those girls aren’t safe!!! Shepard? He’s the wolf!!!”

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How did Cothren and Casada handle all of this before the former’s resignation was announced? The former chief of staff came clean early Monday about using drugs on the job and admitted to sending some derogatory texts (but not specifying which). And Casada, following page 54 of the Privileged White Male Playbook (Chapter Three: How to Bullshit Your Way Through a Crisis of Your Own Making), marshaled in the tried-and-true “we all deserve a shot at redemption” line.

“I gave Mr. Cothren this chance to prove himself, and that’s exactly what he’s done,” Casada said of his aide, who, in case you were curious, takes home about $200,000 a year. It was more or less the same line Casada fed reporters last week, saying, “I stand by my chief of staff on his character because I know his character.”

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That’s kind of the problem, my dear. You knew this whole damn time.

London Lamar, a Tennessee state representative, called for Cothren’s resignation yesterday in a statement to The Root.

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“I began my legislative session by being dragged by Republicans and supremacists for calling out racism in Tennessee. Was I wrong? I think not,” said Lamar, who represents Memphis. “Not only will the legislation passed this year in the State House negatively impact the black community, but the recent comments by the Speaker’s Chief of Staff, Cade Cothren, further proves my point.”

“Removing Cade would set the tone for how we deal with racism in the future and send a strong message to Tennesseans that racism has no place in the General Assembly,” she added.

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The Tennessee Democratic Party also issued a statement yesterday before Cothren’s resignation, placing the spotlight on Casada’s failures.

“Instead of addressing the racist texts he received from his Chief-of-Staff Cade Cothren, Glen Casada would rather talk about his staffer’s cocaine problem as a way to dodge responsibility for his role in elevating a man he knew was a racist,” the Party wrote.

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“Casada’s willingness to lie and a lack of integrity confirms that he cannot be trusted as a leader of the people of Tennessee.”

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About the author

Anne Branigin

Staff writer, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?