Political Notes – Rep. Benton’s not going anywhere

[private]Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson) has spoken often in past legislative sessions about his fondness for the “lost cause” of the Confederate States of America.

He has made numerous speeches from the well of the House about historical figures of the Civil War and has introduced several bills that would prohibit the removal of Confederate memorials from public places. He also objected to the removal two years ago of the statue of Tom Watson, a notorious white supremacist, from the front of the capitol building.

“You can’t pick and choose what history you’re going to remember or you’ll lose a whole bunch of your past,” Benton said at the time. “Watson was a racist and anti-Semite, but he was also probably the most powerful politician in Georgia for 25 years.”

Benton’s sympathies for the Confederacy and its associated causes has never been a secret to the capitol crowd, but he’s suddenly found himself in the middle of a raging controversy for restating his well-known views in an interview this week with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In that interview, Benton said the Ku Klux Klan “was not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order . . . It made a lot of people straighten up. I’m not saying what they did was right. It’s just the way things were.”

Benton, a retired middle school history teacher, also said the Civil War “was not fought over slavery,” an assertion that is rejected by most serious historians of that conflict.

While there was nothing really new in what Benton said, his words aggravated a ongoing legislative battle that has been going on this session with state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta).

Fort has introduced a bill (SB 294) that would prohibit the designation of any state holidays honoring the Confederacy.

Benton answered with a bill, HB 855, that would require the reinstatement of Robert E. Lee’s birthday and Confederate Memorial Day as state holidays. He sponsored another measure, HR 1179, that would preserve the Confederate memorials at Stone Mountain Park.

Benton compared Fort to a Muslim terrorist: “That’s no better than what ISIS is doing, destroying museums and monuments,” Benton said. Fort replied: “I’m not going to respond to anyone who’s an apologist for the Klan and for slavery.”

Nikema Williams, first vice chair of the Georgia Democratic Party joined in the fray: “In an era where communities are working together to bridge divides, Tommy Benton seems content with spewing the kind of half-witted hatred that divides. Benton should be ashamed and his Party should denounce him.”

Better Georgia, a progressive organization, called for Speaker David Ralston to remove Benton from his post as chairman of the House Human Relations and Aging Committee: “His defense of the KKK ignores a grave and dark history of violence and racism in Georgia,” Executive Director Bryan Long said.

Despite all the shouting and hollering, Benton’s current status in the House remains as steadfast as a stonewall.

When asked if the Speaker had any plans to remove Benton as chairman or change any of his committee assignments, Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen replied: “No sir – no changes.”

And they’re off

Even with the stated disapproval of the issue by Gov. Nathan Deal, there is still some movement on the gambling and wagering front in this year’s legislative session.

The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee gave “do pass” recommendations this week to two horse racing measures sponsored by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta): SR 135 is a constitutional amendment in which the state’s voters would decide whether to authorize pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing under the control of the Georgia Lottery and SB 264 is enabling legislation that would provide for the operation and regulation of racetracks.

On the House side, there is HB 677, introduced by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah), that would authorize the establishment of up to six gambling casino resorts in the state. Stephens’ bill is still residing in the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee.

Pace is running

Another candidate is entering the Third Congressional District race to replace Lynn Westmoreland: Jim Pace of Peachtree City, a longtime business associate of Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy.

“We must return to the conservative economic principles and moral values that made our country the greatest country on Earth,” Pace said in his announcement. “We can’t expect different results in Congress from the same career politicians and out of touch bureaucrats who’ve have created this mess.”

State Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newnan) and West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson are also running in the GOP primary.

On the Oregon militia front

Even in a state as far away as Oregon, where federal authorities have been arresting members of an extremist group that occupied a wildlife refuge and threatened violence, there is a Georgia angle.

One of the arrested occupiers is a Georgian: Jason S. Patrick, age 43, of Bonaire.

From an Associated Press report:

In August 2014, Patrick allegedly went into the Warner Robins Municipal Court office on North Houston Road and threatened to “kill everyone” inside, court records state.

Patrick was indicted by a Houston County grand jury late December 2015 on one count of making terroristic threats and one count of obstructing a peace officer during the 2014 episode.

Documents don’t say why Patrick might have been at the court office, on the back side of the old Houston Mall, but they note that he refused Warner Robins police officer Bradley Broadwell’s repeated commands to leave the lobby, “physically resisting arrest.”

Soon after the August arrest, he was out on bond.

Previous to that, in 2014, Patrick was hailed a hero for helping stranded motorists during a snow storm in Atlanta. Those he helped included a man unable to get home and take his medication and a woman who was eight-months pregnant.

Larry O’Neal, who was a state representative at the time, had invited him to the Capitol.

Patrick “really was kind of challenging my integrity when I was in office,” O’Neal told The Telegraph on Thursday. “He was very leery of anybody in government. … He wasn’t angry, but he was just drilled in. His mind was already made up that everybody in politics was corrupt, they were no good.”

O’Neal hadn’t known Patrick was one of the people involved in the Oregon standoff, but told of the latest developments out west, O’Neal remembered Patrick from a forum or town hall gathering that Patrick attended where he was “basically criticizing everything.”

“He hated any kind of politician or politics,” O’Neal said Thursday. “I would probably describe him more as a dissident than an activist.”

So O’Neal invited Patrick to spend some time at the statehouse.

“I told him, ‘Just come see for yourself. Everything we do is open,’ ” O’Neal said. “Come see.”

Patrick took him up on the offer, and O’Neal gave Patrick a pass to sit and watch proceedings. Then the snow storm that crippled the city hit, and Patrick made news by going out and helping stranded motorists.

“My staff in Atlanta showed him around,” O’Neal said. “Then the snow came and he went on his merry way.”

One of the busiest reporters at the scene of the occupation has been John Sepulvado of Oregon Public Broadcasting. Sepulvado was the capitol reporter for Georgia Public Broadcasting from 2008-2010.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report


Tags: Brandon Beach , casinos , Civil War , Confederacy , horse racing , Jim Pace , Larry O\'Neal , Oregon miliita , Tommy Benton , Vincent Fort