(Ed. note: This story was originally published in the print edition and subscriber-only online edition on Jan. 23.)
Dogged by allegations of sexual impropriety, whether state Rep. David Byrd will run for reelection remains a somewhat open question.
Confirming that he did tell fellow Republicans in August he didn’t intend to seek reelection, Byrd on Monday told The Courier, “As of right now my decision still hasn’t changed, but I’m getting a lot of pressure from my district to reconsider. Unless something changes, I’m not planning on it.”
His meaning, he said, is that the decision is not yet final.
“I haven’t picked up papers. I need to make, I intend to make, probably by the end of this month, a final, firm decision. That’s to give anyone else thinking about running, if I don’t, time to get their campaign going,” Byrd said.
Qualifying petitions are available at county election commission offices starting Feb. 3 and are due by noon on April 2.
Byrd said he never intended to run for office in the first place, but credits God for “opening paths and doors” that made it possible. He said he has never planned to stay for more than five or six two-year terms at the most.
“Me and (wife) Sherry have done a lot of praying on it, and if God makes it plain to me he wants me to run again, I will. It was something He opened up in the first place, and I love being a state representative; I love helping people,” Byrd said.
The Waynesboro resident received an overwhelming majority in the 2018 race, but Byrd acknowledged that pressure from outside the district is a factor in his decision-making process for 2020. Several high profile elected state officials and the public interest group “Enough is Enough Tennessee” have called for his resignation.
The pressure stems from allegations of sexual misconduct against Byrd by three female high school student players while he was their basketball coach in the 1980s. The accusations first came to light in early 2018, and centered around conduct the three say occurred when they were 15 to 16 years old and Byrd was 28, at Wayne County High School.
Byrd describes Enough is Enough Tennessee as a well-funded group of Democrats who “get their funding from New York and Los Angeles.” He contends it was created to smear Republicans and doesn’t “go after” Democrats accused of misconduct.
“It’s frustrating that out-of-state groups work so hard and spend so much money to get involved in our district – 90% of that group isn’t even from here. People keep telling me not to listen to what is said in Nashville, and to listen to what the voters say. I feel like I’m disappointing my voters if I don’t run,” Byrd said.
He said the negative attention and pressure to resign from people who don’t live in the district has been hard on him and his family. But inside the district, he said, the feedback is positive.
“I don’t feel like I’ve lost any support. In fact, I’ve even had Democrats from this district say, ‘That’s not us – we’re not a part of that group, and if you run again we’ll support you, because we know you’ll work just as hard for anyone, Democrat or Republican,’” Byrd said.
As of Tuesday, and if he decides to run, Byrd faces at least one challenger in the Republican primary. Former Savannah City Manager Garry Welch has announced his intention to run for state representative for the 71st District.
(Be sure to check out and vote in the online poll on this issue at the bottom of The Courier’s home page.)