NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A woman who has accused a Tennessee state lawmaker of sexual misconduct said she met with Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday to talk about the Republican.
Christi Rice confirmed in a text message that she had met with Lee. Rice said the governor was “extremely nice” and interested in what she had to say.
“He didn’t (say) anything definitively but my impression was that he is a honest moral man that does not condone sexual abuse and will not stand for status quo,” Rice said.
Rice is one of two women who have accused Rep. David Byrd of inappropriately touching them when he was their high school basketball coach three decades ago. A third woman says Byrd tried to.
Byrd has rebuffed calls for his resignation and has since been appointed to a House education subcommittee. That appointment has sparked victim advocates to hold multiple protests and criticize Republican House Speaker Glen Casada, who made the appointment at the start of this year’s Tennessee legislation session.
A handful of women have begun attending Byrd’s committee meetings, holding signs and attempting to ask him questions about the accusations. Byrd has not acknowledged the demonstrations and avoided reporters seeking his response to the protesters.
Lee’s office declined comment, saying the governor’s office does not discuss private meetings.
Lee has not publicly weighed in on Byrd’s appointment to the education subcommittee, but has said “we need victims’ voices to be heard.” During the 2018 campaign, a GOP mailer was circulated that included a photo of Byrd and Lee, but Lee was quick to note he didn’t authorize the use of that photo.
The Associated Press requested Lee’s schedule and personal calendar when news of a possible meeting between the governor and Rice was first mentioned earlier this month.
That request was largely denied on Thursday, with Lee’s general counsel explaining such records are “protected from public disclosure pursuant to the deliberative process privilege.” However, Lee’s public schedule — which notes his media availability and regularly distributed to reporters — was attached in the office’s response.
The AP also requested any communications, documents and emails with Rice and Lee’s office. On Thursday, Lee’s office provided two undated voice messages left by Rice requesting a meeting with the governor.
According to the voice messages, Rice said she reached out because she had been alerted that Lee had been quoted as saying he was open to meeting with the “survivors of David Byrd.”
″(Lee) seems to have impeccable morals so I’m hopeful he will use his position to make a stand against sexual abuse and hold Byrd accountable,” Rice said in her text.
When news first broke of the allegations, Rice recorded a call with 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.”
Byrd has also said in a later statement that he’s done nothing wrong or inappropriate while a lawmaker and that “conduct over 30 years ago is difficult, at best, to recall, but as a Christian, I have said and I will repeat that if I hurt or emotionally upset any of my students I am truly sorry and apologize.”