Byrd running for re-election despite sexual misconduct scandal

Rep. David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) has announced he will seek re-election despite allegations of sexual misconduct with three of his teenage basketball players when he was their 28-year-old high school basketball coach.

Byrd spent much of Thursday’s floor session wandering around House chamber trying to drum up support among fellow lawmakers, embracing some of them and exchanging cell phone numbers. Byrd, who incorporates his nickname “Coach” and the outline of a basketball in his logo, may well benefit from this week’s candidate filing deadline to avoid serious opposition in this year’s election.

But Republicans worried about tighter-than-usual races in other districts likely won’t welcome having to defend inevitable political attacks based on Byrd’s candidacy.

As WSMV-TV’s Alanna Autler first reported, one of the women secretly recorded a telephone call to Byrd in which he apologized and told her how “hard it has been for me” to live with his actions with the woman who was a 15-year-old student at the time. House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) promptly called for Byrd’s resignation. Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) soon followed suit.

“I wish I had a do-over because I promise you I would have corrected that and that would’ve never happened,” Byrd told the woman in the recorded phone call obtained by WSMV. “But I hope you believe me when I say that it’s one of those things that I think about it all the time, and I always ask forgiveness for it and I hope you forgive me.”

“It’s one of those things I’ve really beaten myself up and I don’t know if you believe that or not,” Byrd said. “But I do. All the time. There hasn’t been a Sunday that’s gone by when I’m doing my communion and everything and I’m asking forgiveness for sins, my sins, that’s one of the things that I do.”

Byrd raised eyebrows in the hallways of the Cordell Hull legislative office building when he lashed out at Harwell over her call for him to resign.

“First, let me say that I have done nothing wrong or inappropriate during my term as state representative for the 71st District, which I proudly serve,” Byrd said in last week’s statement. “I am disappointed that Speaker Harwell so quickly publicly turned her back on me but understand her political posture.”

Byrd gave $500 to Harwell’s gubernatorial campaign in December.

Byrd’s political survival prospects weren’t helped by revelations that he served as a character witness in 2013 for a family friend who as a 23-year-old teacher pleaded guilty to statutory rape of a 16-year-old student. WSMV reported that Byrd, then the principal of Wayne County High School, told the court that he believed the defendant had learned his lesson and that he would “hire him in a minute” if he were able to teach again.

This is the third public sexual misconduct blowup that Harwell has had to try to navigate, starting with former Rep. Jeremy Durham (R-Franklin), who was formally expelled from the House in 2016 after The Tennessean and later the state attorney general’s office detailed alleged sexual misconduct with women working at the Capitol complex that earned him the nickname “pants candy.”

The next year, then-Rep. Mark Lovell, a fair and carnival operator from suburban Shelby County, resigned within 100 days of taking office amid what he called false allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with a woman at a legislative event.

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