NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee's governor said Thursday that it's "past time" for a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct to address the allegations publicly.
The statement by Gov. Bill Lee came after months of declining to answer questions about what should be done in response to the claims lodged against Republican Rep. David Byrd.
"While the House must determine if Rep. Byrd should continue service, I believe it is past time for him to address these allegations publicly," Lee said.
Two women alleged Byrd inappropriately touched them. The third said Byrd tried to. Byrd has not outright denied the allegations, but has said he's truly sorry if he hurt or emotionally upset any of his students.
Furthermore, Byrd has spurned calls to step down; in fact, he was reelected in 2018 with overwhelming support in his legislative district. He repeatedly refused to answers questions about the allegations.
While Lee didn't say why he was releasing a sterner statement regarding Byrd, his comments come as House Speaker Glen Casada announced earlier this week that he was stepping down after a vote of no-confidence. The vote came after revelations that Casada exchanged sexually explicit text messages about women with his former chief of staff.
Casada has long sparked criticism for being a defender of Byrd ever since the allegations were first reported more than a year ago. During the 2018 election, Casada released digital ads last election comparing the scrutiny Byrd was under to that given to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump.
Then, after securing the speakership post, Casada rewarded Byrd by appointing him as an education chair.
Casada eventually removed Byrd from the post near the end of the last legislative session after protesters showed up at his education subcommittee's meeting for months.
Now that Casada has said he'll step aside from the leadership position, other top Republican lawmakers seeking to replace Casada have said they also believe Byrd's accusers to be credible.
Speaker Pro Tem Bill Dunn, who would temporarily take over the lead spot until a permanent speaker is chosen, said he believed the women to be credible and said it was up to the speaker to investigate the allegations.
Deputy Speaker Matthew Hill told news outlets he was open to meeting with the women, while Rep. Mike Carter has said he would not have made Byrd a committee chairman.
One of the women, Christi Rice, recorded a call to Byrd. The recording had the lawmaker apologizing but he didn't detail his action and denied anything happened with other students.
Byrd was 28 at the time and working as head coach at Wayne County High School when Rice says he abused her.
"I wish I had a do-over because I promise you I would have corrected that and that would've never happened," Byrd said in the recorded call. "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."
Lee met with Rice earlier this year. At the time, he said it took "a lot of courage" to meet with the governor and share her story, but declined discuss specifics about the meeting.
Lee also sidestepped questions about Byrd's resignation, saying that "''you'll have to ask Representative Byrd about resigning. I'm glad that she had the courage to come speak with me."