Legislator Accused of Sexual Misconduct Resigns as Education Subcommittee Chairman
By Andy Sher
A Tennessee lawmaker accused by former students of sexual misconduct has stepped down as chairman of a House education subcommittee after being asked to by House Speaker Glen Casada.
Casada, R-Franklin, confirmed Thursday that Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, is no longer in charge of the Education Administration Subcommittee.
"Following discussions with members of the House and after careful consideration, I have formally asked Representative Byrd to step down from his position as Chairman of the House Education Administration Subcommittee," Casada said in a statement. "Representative Byrd agrees that this is the best path forward in ensuring the House of Representatives can focus on the issues that truly matter to all Tennesseans."
Casada said his decision was based on "input from members and to continue the orderly operations of the House. I thank Representative Byrd for agreeing to serve in this position, and I am confident this body will be even stronger moving forward."
The Tennessean reported that prior to Thursday's floor session, Byrd was seen exiting a meeting with Casada at the Capitol.
The retired former high school basketball coach has been under fire the last year after Nashville television station WSMV reported accusations made by three former female students who alleged that Byrd of sexual improprieties during the 1980s.
WSMV aired a recorded phone call made by one of his accusers, Christi Rice, in which Byrd apologizes to the woman. But he never specifically said why he was apologizing.
When Casada became House speaker in January, he elevated Byrd and made him a subcommittee chairman, spurring objections from the women, their supporters and Democrats.
Since then, the lawmaker, affectionately known as "coach" to colleagues, has seen a group of protesters at the weekly meeting of his subcommittee.
Earlier in the session, the speaker's office directed that Tennessee Highway Patrol officers remove a group from Byrd's committee with officials saying they were being disruptive. The protesters said they were not. No arrests were made. The protesters, mostly women, have since returned on a weekly basis
In the full Education Committee on Wednesday, Byrd spoke out against Republican Gov. Bill Lee's controversial school voucher bill.
Less than 24 hours later, he was out, a fact not lost on Democrats. While pleased Byrd was no longer a chairman, Democrats pointed to Byrd's no vote as a factor in his being asked to resign from his subcommittee leadership post.
"We've been asking that [removal] for quite some time," Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, told reporters. "I guess it was the vote yesterday where [Byrd' violated his 'protection agreement' and in full Education Committee voted for school children and against vouchers in this state that finally made the speaker react.'"
A House GOP spokesman has no immediate comment when asked about Mitchell's comment.
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, a retired teacher, thanked the "victims of assault and the women who came forward and were very persistent and showed up at every committee to let folks know how they thought."
(c)2019 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)