Despite calls from protesters — and the previous House speaker — for his resignation, a state lawmaker accused of inappropriate sexual conduct against multiple teens has been named chairman of an education subcommittee.
Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, has been assigned by newly-elected House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, to lead the education administration subcommittee.
The announcement came Thursday when committees were assigned on the floor of the House, immediately following required sexual harassment training.
“Matter of fact, his constituents sent him here overwhelmingly,” Casada said when asked about the assignment after the day’s session. “It is an accusation, but we cannot make actions on accusations.”
Both former House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, called for Byrd’s resignation last spring after a WSMV report detailed three women’s sexual assault allegations against Byrd dating back to when he was head coach of the Wayne County High School women’s basketball team.
Two of the women were 15 and one was 16 at the time they say their then-28-year-old coach sexually assaulted them in the 1980s.
When asked about whether he believed one of the women who has repeatedly spoken publicly about her allegations against Byrd, Casada maintained there was no proof of the representative’s reported wrongdoings.
“She may be convincing to some, but again, as individuals, our right to innocent until proven guilty must prevail,” Casada said.
Byrd at the time said the allegations were “disheartening” and suggested “one must question the motive of these three former students.” He did, however, apologize to one of the women in a phone call she recorded, according to the WSMV report.
“This happened long ago, so it’s not within the House of Representative’s purview,” Casada said, when asked whether an investigation should have been conducted. “That case was made, if you will, in front of 67,000 people in the election, and the people spoke loud and clear, overwhelmingly.”
Byrd, who graduated from the high school in 1975, coached there for 24 years and was the school’s principal for eight years.
He did not resign, and shortly after the allegations surfaced announced his plans to seek re-election. He successfully ran again for his seat without a Republican primary challenger.
On Thursday, he said he was “not concerned at all” about potential pushback from his opponents over the assignment.
“I told the speaker I’m a team player, and I’ll do anything he wants me to do,” Byrd said.
He has previously served as vice chair of the education committee.
Byrd was also at the center of other controversy last session for sponsoring a bill that would allow some teachers to carry guns in public schools.
Political action committee has sought ouster of Byrd
This fall, Enough is Enough, a national organization seeking the ouster of state and federal lawmakers who have faced sexual assault allegations, formed a political action committee in Tennessee specifically targeting Byrd.
In addition to holding multiple demonstrations and news conferences, the group also announced they would be canvassing door to door to talk with voters about Byrd ahead of the November election, which he won with 78 percent of the vote.
Casada has stood by Byrd.
A video published by a PAC run by Casada likened Byrd to President Donald Trump and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, saying the men had been attacked by “unhinged liberals.”
On the first day of session Tuesday, several protesters outside the Capitol dressed in red robes and white bonnets, similar to those featured in the Hulu drama “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and held a sign that said “Casada protects men who abuse women,” apparently a reference to Byrd.