Protest Continues In Tennessee Capitol Over Accused Lawmaker

Apr 17, 2019

Credit Bill Lee, via Facebook

A handful of protesters on Wednesday remained camped outside Gov. Bill Lee's office in the Tennessee Statehouse in an attempt to secure a meeting with the Republican to discuss a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct.

The demonstration began Tuesday with four women sitting outside Lee's office door and promising not to leave until they had spoken to the governor. State troopers later threatened to arrest reporters covering the protest, saying the building was closed to the public because the protest had bled into after-business hours.

Chris Walker, Lee's communication director, told The Tennessean that troopers acted properly Tuesday when deciding to kick out the press.

"It is our understanding that Highway Patrol officers followed their standard protocol for when the Capitol building closes to the public," Walker said in a statement. "However, we do not condone threatening of arrest to reporters while they are doing their jobs in trying to cover news."

The women remained outside Lee's office. They had not been arrested as of Wednesday, but troopers physically removed two of them when they tried to sneak into the office without permission earlier in the day.

Democratic lawmakers visited the protesters, dropping off food and sleeping bags throughout the night and continued to check in with them Wednesday.

This is the second time this year that troopers have blocked reporters from covering a protest. Earlier in the year, troopers briefly stood in front of doors and prevented reporters from leaving a room while escorting House Speaker Glen Casada away from protesters. The exchange was momentary but alarmed some concerned about press access to cover the many protests in the building during the legislative session.

The women participating in Wednesday's protest are part of the Enough is Enough Project, a group dedicated to ousting Republican Rep. David Byrd, who has been accused of sexual misconduct nearly three decades ago. Two women have said Byrd inappropriately touched them. The third has said Byrd tried to.

Since being reelected to his position in November, Byrd has faced increasing scrutiny from victims' rights advocates while receiving support from Republican leaders. However, Casada asked for Byrd to resign as chairman of an education subcommittee last month, saying that the move was needed so the Legislature "can focus on the issues that truly matter to all Tennesseans."

Byrd has declined to resign from his legislative position.

Meanwhile, Lee has declined to say whether Byrd should step down and instead applauded the accusers' courage for coming forward.