The Center Square [By Jon Styf] –
A group of Democrat lawmakers in Tennessee is calling for an investigation into how the state’s pilot educational savings account program passed the Legislature.
The pilot, which began in Davidson and Shelby counties, passed in 2019 but was held up in court until it was implemented for the 2022-23 school year. Now, Governor Bill Lee and Republican lawmakers are pushing a statewide ESA proposal.
But House Democrats sent a letter this week asking U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate how the original bill passed the House under former House Speaker Glen Casada.
Casada was arrested along with his former chief of staff in August 2022 on federal charges of theft, bribery and receiving kickbacks, which came from the Department of Justice.
It is unclear if allegations regarding the ESA vote were already investigated by the DOJ.
“Before taking a final tally, Casada held the vote open for 45 minutes, meeting with lawmakers on a balcony behind the speaker’s podium to try and change their mind,” the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus said in a statement. “It has been reported by media outlets that during one of these meetings he offered former Democratic Representative John Mark Windle of Livingston a promotion from colonel to general in the Tennessee National Guard if he changed his vote.”
Windle told colleague Rep. Kent Calfee he declined the offer but the bill ultimately passed. Calfee made the admission to Tennessee Lookout.
The Democrat lawmakers noted their latest call for an investigation is directly related to Lee’s call for a statewide ESA program.
“Given the close connections between former Rep. Glen Casada, Gov. Bill Lee and voucher supporters who are currently on the state’s payroll or being paid by private entities to promote Lee’s latest voucher scam, our duty to Tennesseans mandates that any lingering questions about alleged illegal conduct during the 2019 voucher vote in the House be resolved once and for all,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Ray Clemmons. “If the reported allegations are found to have merit, all individuals involved in such nefarious conduct, regardless of their office or role, must be held accountable under the law to maintain the public’s sacred trust.”
About the Author: Jon Styf, The Center Square Staff Reporter – Jon Styf is an award-winning editor and reporter who has worked in Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida and Michigan in local newsrooms over the past 20 years, working for Shaw Media, Hearst and several other companies. Follow Jon on Twitter @JonStyf.