PAC to target Tennessee lawmaker running amid allegations

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2015 file photo, Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, center, takes the oath on the opening day of the legislative session in Nashville, Tenn. Byrd, who is accused by three adult women of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers, has denied wrongdoing. A local political action committee has since been launched, dedicated to opposing his re-election bid. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A national campaign to prevent politicians accused of sexual misconduct from being re-elected in the November election is now targeting a Tennessee lawmaker, supporters announced Thursday.

After launching the Enough is Enough Project earlier this week, organizers have since created a local political action committee affiliated with the national organization to oppose GOP Rep. David Byrd — a state lawmaker running for a third term in a heavily Republican legislative district despite facing sexual misconduct allegations.

The Enough is Enough Project is trying to raise at least $250,000 to target a handful of candidates around the country in this year’s midterms. All of those targeted are Republicans.

“There is no reason for a person accused of sexual assault of children to hold in an office in the state of Tennessee,” said state Rep. Sherry Jones, a Democrat from Nashville and the PAC’s treasurer.

Nationally, at least 28 state lawmakers who have been accused of misconduct ran for re-election or another office this year, according to data collected by The Associated Press. Of those, 16 advanced to the Nov. 6 general election — 10 Republicans and six Democrats, according to an AP analysis.

Meanwhile, Tennessee has lost two lawmakers in recent years due to sexual misconduct allegations: Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham, who was expelled in September 2016, and Republican Rep. Mark Lovell, who resigned in February.

Byrd was accused by three women in a media report March 27 of sexual misconduct as their high school basketball coach several decades ago. Two women alleged Byrd inappropriately touched them. The third said Byrd tried to.

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-years-old 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.”

Rice, who attended Thursday’s event, said she lives in the same legislative district as Byrd and has faced backlash from her community for speaking out against the popular lawmaker.

“I’ve got a lot of backlash in the community but the people who have come forward and said ‘You speaking up means so much, thank you for exposing the truth,’” Rice said. “That gives me courage today to stand up and speak the truth.”

Instead of heeding calls to resign from House and Senate leaders, Byrd ran for re-election in Waynesboro. He faces Democratic opponent Frankie Floied.

Byrd re-released a statement made in March in response to the PAC’s formation where he didn’t outright deny the allegations, but said that he’s truly sorry if he hurt or emotionally upset any of his students.

“I do not condone sexually inappropriate behavior and hope that my behavior over the last 30 years bears that out,” said Byrd, a Waynesboro lawmaker. “I ran for office, not for opportunity for myself but for the opportunity to help others and provide a service to this district. I understand that my stances on some issues in the House are controversial and I knew that I would have opponents who would seek to embellish my character.”

House Majority Leader Glen Casada has since rushed to defend Byrd, releasing digital ads comparing Byrd’s scrutiny to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and President Donald Trump and claiming he’s the victim of “fake news” by liberals. Casada is running to be the speaker of the Tennessee House.

It’s unclear how successful the new PAC’s efforts will be against Byrd in a GOP-dominant district. In 2016, nearly 85 percent of Wayne County — which encapsulates Waynesboro — voted for Trump. The last Democratic candidate the county carried was in 2006 for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Bredesen.

Jones says her group plans to send out direct mailers and go out door-knocking despite knowing the challenges of convincing voters in the area to vote for a Democrat.

Jones added that the fact that highly charged testimony over alleged sexual misconduct in Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing was happening simultaneously was not related.