david byrd

Byrd accuser Rice fails to qualify for ballot

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House committee meeting on March 28, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. David Byrd won’t have to face his accuser after all.

Chrsti Rice had filed to run against Byrd (R-Waynesboro) this fall. But she failed to turn in copies of her Democratic petition in each of the four counties included in House District 71. So while Byrd has two opponents in the GOP primary, there won’t be a Democrat to take on the winner in November.

Byrd earlier this month reversed course on previous pledges to retire from his seat and filed to run for re-election.

Byrd has been accused of sexual misconduct with high school basketball players when he was their coach in the 1980s. Rice is one of those former student athletes. She recorded a phone conversation in 2018 in which Byrd apologized and told her how “hard it has been for me” to live with his actions with the woman, who was a 15 years old  at the time.

Byrd cites coronavirus as reason for about-face on running for re-election

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meeting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Despite promising Republican House colleagues behind closed doors he wouldn’t seek re-election — and later making similar pledges to the public — state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) is seeking another term.

Byrd made the announcement to the Wayne County News, claiming he had heard from “hundreds of constituents” asking him to remain in the House. Byrd, who was deposed as a subcommittee chairman last year amid a drumbeat of protests over allegations of sexual misconduct when he was a high school basketball coach, said the coronavirus pandemic has underscored “the importance of having an experienced legislator to answer the calls, texts, and emails of numerous concerned constituents.”

“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,” Byrd wrote.

Pulled back in? Byrd feared to be running again

Rep. David Byrd takes a photo during at event in Lawrenceburg on June 4, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Guess who (maybe) wants back? State Rep. David Byrd, the Waynesboro Republican who has been accused of sexual misconduct when he was a girls’ high school basketball coach in the 1980s.

Byrd has never explicitly denied the allegations made by one of his former players who recorded a phone call with the lawmaker in which he apologized for unspecified past transgressions.

When outrage over the lawmaker’s continued tenure in the House appeared close to reaching a tipping point in a special legislative session in August, Byrd managed to blunt the momentum of ouster efforts by promising colleagues he wouldn’t seek another term in 2020.

Byrd then dodged reporters’ questions for months before finally confirming in January that he indeed planned not to run again.

But now, with just days remaining before the Thursday candidate filing deadline, word is emanating out from the shuttered statehouse that Byrd is looking to run for another two-year term. It’s a prospect that fills most lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with dread.

Byrd told The Tennessean in January he might change his mind if he gets “harassed and bullied” by activists.  But the steady drumbeat of protests and media coverage had largely dissipated when most assumed he would not return to the General Assembly.

Former Savannah City Manager Garry Welch announced earlier this month  he will seek the GOP nomination for the House District 71 seat currently held by Byrd. The district covers all of Hardin, Lewis, and Wayne counties and part of Lawrence County.

UPDATE: The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison reports Byrd has not yet picked up a petition to run again. It takes the signatures of 25 registered voters to qualify for the ballot.

Byrd confirms he won’t run for another term in House

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Republican Caucus meeting in Nashville on Jan. 14, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Embattled state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) has confirmed to The Tennessean he won’t seek re-election this fall.

“At this point I’m still not running,” said Byrd, who pledged in a closed door caucus meeting in August he won’t run again.

Byrd has been under fire since former high school basketball players made sexual misconduct allegations against Byrd dating back to when he was their coach in the 1980s.

Byrd was overwhelmingly re-elected in 2018 despite the allegations. He has been the subject of regular protests. The lawmaker suggested that the demonstrators might get him to change his mind.

“If I get harassed and bullied, then I’ll definitely rethink my position about running.

Former Savannah City Manager Garry Welch announced earlier this month  he will seek the GOP nomination for the House District 71 seat currently held by Byrd. The district covers all of Hardin, Lewis, and Wayne counties and part of Lawrence.

Byrd to have GOP primary challenger if he runs again

Embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) will have a Republican primary opponent if he reneges on his previous pledge not to seek another term representing House District 71.

Garry Welch, a former city manager of Savannah, announced he will run for the GOP nomination for the seat representing all of Hardin, Lewis, and Wayne counties and part of Lawrence County.

“I’m excited to pursue the opportunity, and I am running for the office to serve all the citizens of the district,” Welch said in a statement to The Courier of Savannah. “As city manager, I was in Nashville quite a bit. I understand the process and think I am well qualified to represent the district.”

Welch retired in 2018 after serving as city manager for 12 years.

Byrd told colleagues before a recent special session that he wouldn’t run again amid moves to oust him over allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was their high school basketball coach in the 1980s.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison (R-Cosby) and House Majority Leader William Lamberth (R-Portland) told The Tennessean it will be up to the House GOP’s seven-member campaign committee to decide whether to support Byrd if he runs again.

“Personally, Jeremy Faison will not be a part of that race,” Faison told the paper. “I will stay out of the race and leave it up to his constituents if he runs.”

House Speaker Sexton won’t pursue Byrd ouster following AG opinion (UPDATED)

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) and Rep. Sheila Butt (R-Columbia) attend a committee meeting in Nashville on March 28, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

House Speaker Cameron Sexton says he won’t move to oust a Republican state lawmaker following an attorney general’s opinion advising against it.

“After consulting with House leadership and our committee chairmen, we will heed Attorney General Slatery’s advice and not move forward,” Sexton said in a release.

State lawmakers may have the power to oust Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) for allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage basketball players before he was elected to office, but “historical practice, sound policy considerations, and constitutional restraints counsel against” such a move, Attorney General Herbert Slatery said in a legal opinion released Wednesday.

The state constitution provides for each chamber of the General Assembly to “determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member.”

That language has been unchanged since the adoption of the 1796 constitution, but Slatery notes that state courts “yet to construe the meaning of ‘disorderly behavior’ or the scope of the expulsion clause more generally.”

Much of the opinion appears to hinge on whether lawmakers need to find their colleagues guilty of disorderly behavior in order to expel them. Others have argued that the provisions dealing with punishment for disorderly conduct and expelling members are not linked, and that the House and Senate can oust any of their members for any reason the choose so long as they can get a two-thirds vote.

Slatery concludes:

  1. There is no federal or Tennessee historical precedent of expelling a member other than for conduct that occurred while the member was in office. Historically, the power of expulsion has been used very sparingly and then only to punish a member for “disorderly conduct” that occurred during the member’s current term in office.
  2. Sound policy considerations counsel that the power of expulsion should rarely if ever be exercised when the misconduct complained of occurred before the member’s election and was generally known to the public at the time of the member’s election. Because expulsion under those circumstances essentially negates the choice of the electorate, the House must weigh its interests in safeguarding the public trust in its institutional integrity against the deference and respect owed to the choice of the electorate before it expels the member. That is, in light of the particular facts and circumstances of each case “the [House] must balance its interest in ‘assur[ing] the integrity of its legislative performance and its institutional acceptability to the people at large as a serious and responsible instrument of government,’
    with a respect for the electoral decisions of the voting public and deference traditionally paid to the popular will and choice of the people.” Expulsion of Members of Congress, CRS Report 7-5700 at 13 (quoting Powell v. McCormack, 395 F.2d 577, 607 (D.C. Cir. 1968)  (McGowan, J., concurring)).
  3. In any event, since even the broadest legislative power is subject to state and federal constitutional restraints, the expulsion power may be exercised only to the extent consistent with the voters’ constitutional right to choose their representatives and with the member’s state and federal constitutional rights, such as the right to due process and equal protection.

Wake me up when September ends? Byrd still mum on re-election plans

Embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meeting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) tried to defuze efforts to oust him from the General Assembly during a special session in August by telling GOP colleagues behind closed doors that he wouldn’t run for re-election next year. When confronted by The Tennessean afterward, Byrd declined to confirm anything, saying only he would have a statement about his plans in September.

Well, September has come and gone. And Byrd, who has never publicly addressed sexual misconduct allegations dating back to when he was a girls high school basketball coach, still hasn’t made any public pronouncements. The lawmaker didn’t respond to several efforts by The Tennessean to reach him for comment.

Sexton elected speaker, Byrd ouster deferred

Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) makes a motion to oust Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) for sexual misconduct during a special session in Nashville on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) was elected House Speaker on Friday and the chamber turned back Democrats’ attempts to oust Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) over sexual misconduct allegations.

Sexton was elected on a 94-0 vote, a rare moment of unity in a House rocked by the scandal-plagued speakership of Glen Casada (R-Franklin), who did not attend the special session.

Efforts to oust Byrd were sent back to the Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Cameron Sexton presides over his first session as House speaker on Aug. 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal) 

AG asked to opine on power to oust Byrd from House

Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) speaks to the House Republican Caucus after winning their nomination for speaker on July 24, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Cameron Sexton, the Republican nominee to be elected speaker during Friday’s special session, is asking state Attorney General Herbert Slatery about whether the chamber has the power to oust Rep. David Byrd over allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage basketball players when he was their coach in the 1980s.

UPDATEThe Tennessean’s Joel Ebert reports that the AG’s office does not anticipate being able to answer in time for the special session.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Dear General Slatery:

Article 11, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution provides:

  • Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offence; and shall have all other powers necessary for a branch of the Legislature of a free State.

The Tennessee House of Representatives has used the power to expel only twice since 1866. In both instances, the member was expelled for conduct that occurred during the time of the member’s service. I am writing to request an opinion as to the following question:

  • May the House of Representatives expel a member for conduct which occurred more than twenty-five years prior to the member’s initial election to the House of Representatives and that is publicly known at the time of the member’s most recent re-election to the House of Representatives?

As always, I appreciate the work that you and your staff provide to the General Assembly and to the citizens of Tennessee. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Respectfully submitted,

/signed/
Representative Cameron Sexton
25th Representative District

Resolution to oust Byrd won’t be on calendar. But is one even needed?

Embattled Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) attends a House Education Committee meeting in Nashville on March 28, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessean’s Natalie Allison reports that a resolution seeking to oust state Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) over sexual misconduct allegations dating back to when he was a girls’ high school basketball coach in the 1980s won’t be placed on the House calendar for this week’s special session.

If Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) wants her resolution to be taken up, it would require a two-thirds majority to suspend the rules — the same margin required to oust a sitting member.

But there’s a fairly obvious workaround, if past experience with the ouster of then-Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin) is any guide. During the 2016 special session to undo a drunken driving bill that threatened $60 million in highway funds for running afoul of federal guidelines, Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) stood to announce a motion to oust Durham over the sexual misconduct allegations laid out in a state attorney general’s report.

There was no accompanying resolution for the successful effort to remove Durham, which rankled the former lawmaker’s few supporters in the chamber. They included then-Rep. Rick Womick (R-Murfreesboro), who likened the House to a “banana republic” if any member could just stand and make a motion to oust another.

But Joe McCord, the House clerk at the time, cited the following provision in the Tennessee Constitution outlining the power to remove members:

Section 12. Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member, but not a second time for the same offense; and shall have all other powers necessary for a branch of the Legislature of a free state.

While the General Assembly is required to stay within the governor’s call for the special session, which are to pass updates to court rules that didn’t get taken up during this spring’s regular session, internal housekeeping matters like leadership elections are also allowed.

Byrd, who was recorded by one of the now-adult women apologizing for unspecified sins in the past, has been urged by Lee not to seek re-election next year.