Rep. Tommy Benton (R) of Jefferson has been relieved of his committee chairmanship in the state House following disparaging remarks he made on a radio show about the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
“The comments made by Representative Benton are offensive and disgusting," Said House Speaker David Ralston. "These comments do not reflect the values or the views of the House Majority (Republican) Caucus. I can neither condone nor ignore such hurtful remarks. Congressman John Lewis spent a lifetime of public service advancing equality for all. He stood with Dr. King to fight for civil rights during dangerous times for which he paid a brutal price.”
Benton said he had no comment about the speaker's action.
"I don't have any comment on that," he told a reporter for Mainstreet Newspapers. "I'm not going to get into a contest with him, or you, or anybody else. That's all I've got to say."
It's the second time in recent years that Benton has been stripped of a committee chairmanship by Republican state house leaders over racially-charged comments.
During a discussion on WJJC radio in Commerce, Benton blasted a movement to remove the statue of Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, from the U.S. Capitol and replace it with a statue of Rep. Lewis, who died in July.
Lewis, a Civil Rights icon, was close to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and later served in the U.S. House for three decades. He often called for racial healing and was respected by members from both sides of the aisle.
But Benton said that Lewis had "milked" a beating he took in Alabama during a peaceful march in Selma.
“John Lewis — His only claim to fame was that he got conked on the head at the [Edmund] Pettus bridge," Benton said. "And he has milked that for 50 years —or he milked it for 50 years.”
Lewis and others were attacked in Selma by white Alabama State Patrolmen in 1965 as they began a march to Montgomery. Lewis suffered a fractured skull in the melee.
Benton also said that Lewis never passed any significant legislation during his long career in Congress.
In the radio discussion, Benton also defended Alexander Stephens.
“I notice that there’s a movement to replace Alexander Stephens’ statue in Washington D.C. with that of John Lewis," Benton said. "I would suggest that before they do something like that, that they take a pilgrimage down to Crawfordville and visit the Alexander Stephens museum, and read all the stuff that he did do."
Benton has had a history of making racial and revisionist comments while serving in the state House.
He has defended the KKK, was opposed to a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being put on the state capitol grounds and claimed that slavery wasn't the root cause of the Civil War.
Benton's opponent in the upcoming Nov. 3 election, Democrat Pete Fuller of Jefferson, said he was "not surprised" by Benton's comments about Rep. Lewis.
"Over his legislative career, he has repeatedly taken actions to belittle the accomplishments of the leaders of the Civil Rights movement and these recent comments are unfortunately not out of the norm," Fuller said.
Fuller said he doesn't believe that Benton represents the views of Jackson County.
"Everywhere you look here you see compassion; multiple organizations, churches, and businesses helping and uplifting one another," Fuller said. "Except for the Benton residence on Martin St. in Jefferson, still flying the Confederate flag."