Representative David Byrd (R-71) of the Tennessee House of Representatives announced his reelection bid yesterday. This was despite multiple recent allegations that he sexually assaulted teenage girls during his long career as a high school girls basketball coach in Wayne County.
Coach David Byrd called to account
In a hard-hitting investigative report by WSMV’s Alanna Autler that aired a few days before Easter, David Byrd was accused by three former Wayne County High School “Lady Cats” players of inappropriate behavior during his years as a coach and principle at the school.
Former player Christi Rice, who was 15 years old at the time of Byrd’s alleged misconduct, placed a phone call to her former coach which she secretly recorded.
Although Byrd never states exactly what he is sorry for, it is clear that some past behavior on his part involving Rice has troubled him for decades:
He said on the call, “I can promise you one thing, I have been so sorry for that. I’ve lived with that and you don’t know how hard it has been for me.”
Even before the WSMV report aired, concerned Tennessee officials were calling for Byrd to resign, including fellow-Republicans Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and Tennessee Lt. Governor Randy McNally.
Byrd stands tough
Despite the high-profile calls for him to step down, Byrd has carried on in his role as legislator as normal, and has even announced his intention to stand for reelection in November.
Yesterday Byrd appeared before the House Education Administration & Planning Committee to speak in favor of his bill to allow Tennessee school teachers to carry concealed firearms.
The controversial bill failed, but his public appearance gave the media a chance to question the even more controversial lawmaker.
Speaking about his plans for the future, Byrd said, “I’ve actually announced for re-election. I did that over the weekend on my Facebook page, and I had probably over 1,200 positive comments and shares and likes and when you get 1,200 comments on one Facebook post, you’ve got quite a bit of support.”
When asked if the allegations are true he said, “no comment.”
Byrd’s chances of hanging on increased when a prominent Republican lawmaker, House Majority Leader Glen Casada, called for Tennessee voters to have the final decision on Byrd’s fate in November. Speaking again to WSMV’s Alanna Autler he said:
“The David Byrd I know is not the David Byrd being described in these allegations. However, they are serious claims and these women have a right to be heard. David Byrd also has that same right for his side of the story. I do not believe Rep. Byrd should resign from his legislative seat and voters will have the opportunity to decide whether to send him back to the General Assembly in just a few short months.”
David Byrd’s past defence of offending teachers
When David Byrd first ran for Tennessee House in 2014, he claimed his then opponent was trying to smear him with “negative, slanderous mail pieces” because of his past support for a teacher who had confessed to statutory rape.
In account from his now-lapsed campaign website coachbyrd.com (still available via the Internet Archive) Byrd attempted to set the story of his supportive testimony for the disgraced teacher straight.
Quoting from the official court document, Byrd explained why he would have been willing to hire the offender at Wayne County High School:
“Although he did not condone the defendant’s conduct, Byrd was confident the defendant had learned his lesson and would never engage in such behavior again. He said that, if the defendant were able to teach, he would hire him in a minute.”
Byrd then explains, “As a principal, I would never agree to hire anyone that I thought would be a threat to a student. But because of knowing this young man’s history, I felt he deserved a second chance.”
Although the allegations against Byrd remain just that, allegations, many find the testimony of the three former Wayne County students compelling. If their claims are proven correct, it seems likely Byrd, like his former student, will want a second chance as well.