NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Tennessee lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct decades ago has reversed course and says he will now seek reelection after all.
In a statement this week announcing his reelection bid, Republican Rep. David Byrd did not mention the accusations of sexual misconduct by three women when he was their high school basketball coach and a teacher, before being elected.
Instead, he stressed the importance of having an experienced lawmaker during the coronavirus pandemic.
“For District 71 to have a freshman Representative during this crucial time could definitely result in our rural counties being overlooked in future key legislation that could help our constituents rebound from this devastating pandemic,” the Waynesboro lawmaker said in his statement, which was published online Tuesday by The Wayne County News. “I believe now, more than ever, that the experience and knowledge that I have gained will prove to be invaluable for the economic recovery of our District.”
In January, Byrd confirmed that he told GOP colleagues in an August closed door gathering that he wouldn't run again for a fourth two-year term. He also said he might change his mind if protests calling for his removal over the allegations continued.
Byrd has a Republican primary opponent, former Savannah, Tennessee, City Manager Garry Welch.
Byrd cruised to reelection in 2018 after the sexual misconduct allegations became public, but he did not draw a Republican primary opponent in the GOP-tilted district, which includes Hardin, Lewis, Wayne and part of Lawrence counties.
Byrd was never charged in the allegations. Two women alleged Byrd inappropriately touched them. The third said Byrd tried to.
Byrd apologized to one of the women in a phone call she recorded in early 2018, but he didn’t detail his action and denied anything happened with other students.
In November, House Speaker Cameron Sexton said his GOP supermajority would not pursue a vote to expel Byrd, citing a state attorney general opinion that acknowledges the move isn’t prohibited, but cautions against it.
Republican Gov. Bill Lee last May said it's "past time" for Byrd to address the allegations publicly and has said he found one of Byrd's accusers, Christi Rice, to be credible.Accused Tennessee lawmaker reverses, will seek reelection