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Tennessee state officials formally elect a new House speaker

In this July 24, 2019 file photo, State Rep. Cameron Sexton, right, is congratulated after winning the Republican nomination as Speaker of the House during a Republican Caucus meeting in the Old Supreme Court Chambers on the first floor of the Capitol in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee lawmakers formally elected a new House speaker on Friday, Aug. 23, marking the latest development over the last few months of chaos inside the GOP-dominated chamber as the former leader became engulfed in multiple scandals involving sexually explicit text messages. Representatives met for special legislative session with the sole purpose to name Sexton to lead the House chamber. The vote was unanimous, though two Democratic members abstained from voting.(Larry McCormack/The Tennessean via AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee state representatives formally elected a new House speaker on Friday, following months of chaos inside the GOP-dominated chamber as the former leader became engulfed in multiple scandals involving sexually explicit text messages.

House members met for a special legislative session with the sole purpose to name Rep. Cameron Sexton to lead the chamber. There were no opposing votes, though two Democratic members abstained.

“In this chamber, I will always encourage robust but respectful debate,” Sexton said during his acceptance speech. “Debate and conversation make us stronger.”

GOP Rep. Glen Casada resigned as speaker Aug. 2 after revelations he exchanged sexually explicit text messages about women with his former chief of staff years ago, among other controversies. The scandals plagued Casada as he initially resisted calls to step down from his leadership role inside his GOP caucus, but he eventually consented after the caucus voted they no longer had confidence in his leadership.

Casada, who remains a House member, was not present during Friday’s session.

Last month, House Republicans nominated Sexton as Casada’s replacement, but the full House needed to cast a formal vote in order for Sexton to take over.

Meanwhile, victims’ rights advocates are pressing lawmakers to use the session to expel Republican Rep. David Byrd, who’s accused of sexual misconduct by three women nearly 30 years ago.

Byrd refused to answer questions from reporters on Friday and instead said he would have a statement in “late September.” Byrd addressed the GOP caucus during a closed door meeting before Friday’s legislative session, but legislative leaders have declined to reveal what was discussed because they argue it was a “family discussion.”

Sexton has requested the attorney general’s guidance on whether the House can expel a lawmaker for decades-old conduct.

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