Ga. Lawmaker Loses Chairmanship Over ‘Disgusting’ Comments About John Lewis

Georgia Rep. Tommy Benton, left, was stripped of his committee leadership position after comments he made about the late Congressman John Lewis.

Associated Press file photos

Following the death of Congressman John Lewis, all of Georgia’s members of Congress asked the state Legislature to replace the statue of the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, in the U.S. Capitol with a statue of Lewis. Each state is allotted two statues on Capitol grounds.

Republican State Rep. Tommy Benton has lost a leadership position for speaking out against that proposal and publicly disparaging Lewis’ career.

As originally reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Benton told Commerce, Georgia, radio station WJJC that Lewis’ “only claim to fame was that he got conked on the head at the [Edmund] Pettus Bridge. And he has milked that for 50 years.”

Lewis’ skull was fractured on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, when he was beaten by law enforcement during a peaceful civil rights march now known as “Bloody Sunday,” which prompted the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Republican State House Speaker David Ralston relieved Benton of his committee chairmanship and called Benton’s comments “disgusting” and “offensive” in a statement.

“These comments do not reflect the values or the views of the House Majority Caucus. I can neither condone nor ignore such hurtful remarks,” Ralston said.

“I have never read a significant piece of legislation that was passed with [Lewis’] name on it,” Benton also said.

Lewis, reelected 16 times to his congressional district, was known as the “conscience of the Congress.” He is credited with fighting for 15 years to shepherd the passage of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“I would suggest that before they do something like that they take a pilgrimage down to Crawfordville and visit the Alexander Stephens Museum and read all the stuff that he did do,” Benton said of the idea to switch the statues.

In 2016, Benton made national news when he said the Ku Klux Klan “was not such a racist thing, but a vigilante thing to keep law and order” and “made a lot of people straighten up.”

This is the second time Benton has lost a chairmanship. In 2017, it was because he circulated an article titled “The Absurdity of Slavery as the Cause of the War Between the States.”

That same year he introduced a resolution, which never passed, honoring the Confederacy with no mention of slavery or the Civil War.

When he received a leadership position again in 2019, a spokesman for Speaker Ralston, Kaleb McMichen, told the AJC, “The speaker’s philosophy is that people deserve a second chance and that’s what he has given Chairman Benton.”

Ralston, Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Gov. Brian Kemp have all endorsed the idea to add Congressman Lewis’ statue to the U.S. Capitol, which would require approval by the General Assembly.