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A group of area residents gather outside the Community Complex to share messages related to removing state Rep. David Byrd from the Tennessee General Assembly. Another group greeted individuals as they entered the exhibit building where the dinner was held.

As members of the Cumberland County Republican Party gathered to celebrate state Rep. Cameron Sexton’s election as Speaker of the House of Representative, several Cumberland County residents were also present to share a message with Sexton — state Rep. David Byrd should go.

The Wayne County Republican has been accused of sexually assaulting three women when they were teens in the 1980s while he was their teacher and basketball coach. 

The allegations first surfaced during the 2018 campaign, which Byrd won with 78% of the vote. 

In August, Sexton requested an opinion from the Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III, asking if the House can expel a member for allegations of misconduct from before the person was elected to office.

Slatery’s opinion was published Nov. 12, noting, “Historical practice, sound policy considerations and constitutional restraints counsel against, but do not absolutely prohibit, the exercise of the legislature’s expulsion power to oust a member for conduct that occurred before he was elected and that was known to the member’s constituents when they elected him.”

Sexton told the Chronicle expulsion had always before involved actions that took place while the person was in office.

“These allegations are from 30 years ago and it’s something that was known before he was re-elected,” Sexton said. 

The House has expelled members of the General Assembly before, most recently in 2016 when Jeremy Durham of Williamson County was expelled for “disorderly conduct” following an attorney general’s investigation found he had inappropriate contact with at least 22 women. 

The House also expelled Robert Fisher from East Tennessee following an indictment charging he solicited a bribe from the Carter County Sheriff to kill a state bill the sheriff opposed. Fisher was later convicted on the charge. 

Slatery wrote, “[T]he expulsion power is best exercised only in extreme circumstances and with great caution.” 

He closed by noting there is no historical precedent of expelling a member of the assembly for anything other than conduct that occurred while the member was in office. Expulsion also goes against the choice of the electorate, especially when misconduct was complained of before the election. Slatery noted even broad legislative power is subject to state and federal constitutional restraints including the right for voters to choose their representatives and due process and equal protection of the House member.

In August, the House voted to refer a resolution to expel Byrd to the judiciary committee for investigation. Sexton told the Tennessean newspaper he would wait for the attorney general opinion before calling for the judiciary committee to investigate Byrd. 

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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