Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in video says Rep. Byrd to resign soon; not so fast, governor's spokeswoman says

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee in video says Rep. Byrd to resign soon; not so fast, governor's spokeswoman says

July 10th, 2019 by Andy Sher in Breaking News

This story was updated Wednesday, July 10, 2019, at 9 p.m. with more information.

NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee says in a video posted online by a Meigs County political activist that he expects embattled state Rep. David Byrd to leave the House "soon."

But a spokeswoman for the Republican governor on Wednesday said the governor thought the woman was asking him about GOP House Speaker Glen Casada, who is resigning his post next month.

Lee has previously stated that Byrd, a Waynesboro Republican and retired Wayne County school system coach, should publicly address allegations by three former female basketball players who accuse him of sexual misconduct during the late 1980s.

The governor, who met earlier this year with one of Byrd's accusers, Christi Rice, also has said he found Rice "credible."

Lee is also said by an administration official to have applied pressure on Byrd a month or so ago, directly asking Byrd not to seek re-election in 2020. Byrd is said to have replied he wanted time to think about it.

Several legislative sources, meanwhile, are convinced that Byrd, a subject of repeated, high-profile protests during this year's legislative session by the former players and other women, won't run again.

Efforts to contact Byrd were unsuccessful.

The video was shot Tuesday during the Republican governor's visit to the Boys and Girls Club of the Ocoee Region in Decatur, Tennessee.

As Lee and his security detail prepare to enter the building, retired school teacher and political activist Anna Grabowski notes to Lee that he is visiting the club.

"I love the Girls and Boys Club," Lee says.

Grabowski replies, "I do too," and immediately brings up Byrd, asking, "Will you get the child molester out of the Legislature right away? David Byrd. Get him out of there."

In response, Lee says, "That's going to happen real soon."

Grabowski, who in 2016 ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat in the heavily Republican House District 22, then tells Lee "that should happen now. And so should Casada. Why are you paying him for two extra months?"

Lee spokeswoman Laine Arnold said in a statement that "as the governor entered a crowded event, questions were shouted at him that understood to be about Speaker Casada and he responded accordingly."

Arnold said Lee's position on Byrd, who was the subject of repeated protests at this year's legislative session by female activists both from his own home county and elsewhere, "continues to be that it is past time for the representative to respond to allegations."

Grabowski said on Twitter Wednesday that "it was clear that I was talking about Byrd. It was the first thing I said to him, because it seemed so appropriate to ask while he was at a club for children. It is really hard to believe that he misunderstood."

Casada announced in June that he will resign Aug. 2. That came after an uproar over trading explicitly sexual text messages with a then-top aide and other controversies, leading to the majority of his fellow House Republicans voting in May to say they no longer had confidence in his ability to lead them.

Lee has called a special legislative session for Aug. 23 for the House to elect a new speaker and conduct any other necessary business.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat, has said she plans to push a resolution during the special session to expel Byrd from the House.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.


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