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Livingston, Ledbetter preview legislative session

Brandon Moseley

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Alabama House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, and State Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, addressed the people of Fort Payne about the state of the state. The event was sponsored by the Fort Payne Chamber of Commerce,

Senator Livingston said that I want to give you an overview of what happened in 2018 and an overview of what’s ahead in the legislative session.

“Its an honor to represent Fort Payne in the Alabama Legislature,” Representative Ledbetter said. “It is an honor to be re-elected as Majority Leader unanimously.”

Sen. Livingston said that he will support legislation in the next session that will teach the Bible as an elective. “A lot of the problems in our school system would go away if we would just say a prayer at 7:30 each day.”

“If you want a job in Alabama you can find a job in Alabama,” Livingston said praising the strong Alabama economy.

“Alabama is one of the top five states for business,” Rep. Ledbetter said. “Being one of the top five states people want to go to is important.”

Livingston said, “I was at the Blue Origin ribbon cutting this week. It was interesting to see the excitement from the ULA (United Launch Alliance) folks.

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ULA will use the Blue Origin rocket engines for their rockets which are made at the ULA Decatur factory.

Livingston said that there was a possibility of Dream Chaser making landings in Huntsville as early as 2022.

Dream Chaser is a reusable space plane built y Sierra Nevada Corporation Space Systems. The Dream Chaser is designed to resupply the International Space Station. Dream Chaser will be launched into space on a ULA Atlas V rocket.

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Ledbetter said that Google is coming into Birmingham and is also building in Jackson County.

Livingston said that on Monday U.S. Senator Richard Shelby said that the FBI is looking at putting another $billion into the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville.

“Last year we passed the largest tax cut in the history of Alabama,” Livingston told the audience.

“We passed the Rolling Reserve Act, which virtually eliminated proration,” Ledbetter said. “This year we will surpass over $7 billion in the education budget, the largest education budget in the history of the state.”

“There is no one size fits all for securing schools,” Livingston said. “We have got to provide some money for school security and let our school superintendents decide how to spend it.”

Livingston said that in 2018 the legislature passed a balanced state general fund budget of $2 billion with no new tax increases. They were able to add $3 million in funds for the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to put 30 additional state troopers on the road. Corrections was given a $55 million increase to hire additional mental and medical health staff.

“We have paid off over $500 million that the previous administration had borrowed from the rainy day fund,” Ledbetter said.

“We started giving veterans free entrance to all Alabama state parks,” Ledbetter told the Fort Payne audience. The Veterans Employment Act established a one-time $2,000 income tax credit for businesses that hire a veteran for a full-time position paying at least $14 an hour.

Livingston said that the legislature has reformed incentives so that they are pay as you go rather than cash incentives.

The two legislators said that the legislature passed bills to help ridesharing services and the Data Breach Notification Act after Equifax reported in March that two million Americans were affected by their data breach in 2017.

Livingston said that the legislature passed bills to fight human trafficking.

Livingston said that the legislature also passed Emily’s Law last year. Emily Colvin was killed by a dangerous dog. Some of her family were in attendance. The bill sets felony penalties for anyone convicted of owning a dog that has seriously injured or killed a person.

“You can spend time in jail and have a hefty fine,” Ledbetter said.

Ledbetter spoke in favor of expanding rural broadband.

“What if we have a man in rural Alabama who has found a cure for cancer but he does not have broadband to get it out there to the rest of the world?” Ledbetter said.

Livingston said that State Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, was the architect of the bill that created the Broadband Accessibility Fund.

Ledbetter said that he expects another bill that will raise the fund.

Livingston said that the legislature passed the Child Care Safety Act “To make sure that we protect our kids.”

“We changed the law and I think kids in daycare are safer because of it,” Ledbetter said.

Ledbetter said that he worked with Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon to protect the Republican supermajority. The House GOP has the largest majority it has ever had at 77 of the 105 seats.

Livingston said that Republicans picked up Harri Ann Smith’s seat in southeast Alabama and defended the 26 seats they already has so hold 27 of the 35 seats in the Alabama Senate.

“We have a group that will play well together,” Senator Livingston added.
Ledbetter said that he expected to see an infrastructure bill.

“I don’t know what the mechanism will be; but we have CEOs from Mercedes get up and say if you don’t improve your infrastructure we will stop expanding in your state. A General said if we had known you weren’t going to expand your infrastructure we would have stayed in Virginia.”

Livingston praised Mayor Tommy Battle and the folks in Huntsville for coming up with $250 million in local money to improve roads there.

“I have not seen the bill,” Livingston said. “I have heard 26 cents (a gallon in higher fuel taxes). I don’t know where that came from. If you have driven I-65 you will know that we have a problem.”

Ledbetter said that Dekalb County school buses drive 30,000 a miles a year to get around bad bridges. The last time the state did anything was 1992. Cars are a lot more fuel efficient than they were then. The last two years it (fuel tax collections) has been down six percent even though we have we have 22 percent more vehicles on the road. “It may not be all fuel taxes, it might be something else.”

“There is a lot of conversation going on,” Livingston said. “The devil is in the details. The fighting will start when we see a bill.” Georgia passed a 26 cents a gallon increase. “We have seen a lot of growth. If we don’t address this all of that could come to a screeching halt.”

Livingston said that Senator Shelby said that there is going to be some money set aside for dredging Mobile Bay Harbor. Right now there is not a port on the Gulf of Mexico that the big supercargo container ships can go to. They have to go around to the Atlantic Ocean. They are talking about dredging down 18 inches and 20 foot on either side.

The legislators said that the trucking industry pays 44 percent of the fuel taxes, Ledbetter said 23 percent of all fuel is by people transiting through the state Alabamians only buy 33 percent of the fuel.

“The trucking industry is behind it,” Livingston said.

On the prison issue, Livingston said, “The Governor has an idea that they can fix this without the legislature’s help. We will see.” We will have to provide more mental health care in the prisons.

“We have got to look at doing something about workforce development,” Ledbetter said. “A certified plumber can make more money in Dekalb County than a lawyer can. We have a lot of lawyers. We don’t have enough plumbers. It is the same way with electricians.”

The two legislators said that they were meeting with Chancellor Baker to discuss a plan to help Northeast Alabama’s workforce.

“Mike Row said that we have kids borrowing money for degrees for jobs that no longer exist,” Ledbetter said. “Welders can make six digits.”

Livingston said that there is a big need for HVAC workers. Google has to cool all those servers and they are paying $37 an hour for HVAC certified people.

“Medicaid expansion has become a topic suddenly this week,” Livingston said.

“There is some talk among the hospitals that they have a way to pay the state’s portion back,” Ledbetter said. “We are losing a lot of rural hospitals. Jacksonville just closed. If they are willing to pay it back and not be a burden for the state.” “Am I sold on it yet? I am not.”

Livingston said that were working with CMS (the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to make it where small rural hospitals are entitled to the same reimbursement as major city hospitals.

Ledbetter said that Medicaid Commissioner Stephanie Azar asked for less money than they got last year.

Ledbetter said that there is going to be a lottery bill. “I am not privy to the plan yet.”
“I am not sure who is going to bring it,” Livingston said. McClendon has a stand-alone lottery bill.

“I am not a lottery person, but I think you have a right to vote on it,” Ledbetter said. “If you see me vote for it, I am voting for your right to vote on it.”

“Economic growth the last two years has been really good,” Livingston said. “The general fund budget is healthy. That’s when the problems start in Montgomery. When we have got money.”

“92 percent of our money is earmarked,” Livingston said. “We only have got a little bit of money to play with.”

The legislators reported that Dekalb County has four existing industries expand and five new industries announced for 112 new jobs. Jackson County has expansions and one new industry for a total of 315 ne jobs.

“We are dropping a ball on mental health in Alabama,’’ Ledbetter said. We would like to get mental health advisers in schools so kids can get help early on.

Livingston acknowledged the concerns of an audience member and admitted that a lottery is a regressive tax and will come with social ills.

The legislators said that the Bellefonte nuclear power plant will create 8000 construction jobs over seven years and1500 permanent jobs.

Livingston said that TVA blocked the sale of the plant at the last minute and the matter is in federal court in front of new appointee Lyles Burke.

“I feel pretty comfortable that if things go well they (TVA) will sell the plant,” Livingston said. “It will be done right and managed professionally. This is not Nathaniel and Steve going out and building a nuclear plant. This will be done right.

An audience member asked about removing the sales tax on groceries.

Livingston said that the state would have to make the money back from someplace

“We are looking at it,” Ledbetter said.

“We need to be looking at changing Alabama for the next generation and not for the next election,” Ledbetter said.

Huntsville economic developer Nicole Jones addressed the legislators about her support for infrastructure improvements.

“I appreciated the opportunity to speak briefly on the importance of addressing Alabama’s crumbling infrastructure,” Jones said in a statement. “Adequate infrastructure always makes the top tier of requirements during the site selection process. If we are going to continue our state’s economic momentum (project wins), we must be proactive and address infrastructure now. This means dredging a small part of Mobile Bay so ships can move in more cargo as well as fixing our highways so 18-wheelers can transport goods effectively and constituents can travel to and from the workplace in a safe and reliable manner (with minimal traffic) We are not receiving the same return on investment as the economic model generated in 1992. Vehicles have become more fuel efficient since then. Infrastructure is a quality of life issue and a bipartisan issue that will dominate the upcoming legislative session.”

The legislative session begins in March.

Brandon Moseley is a senior reporter with eight and a half years at Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Facebook. Brandon is a native of Moody, Alabama, a graduate of Auburn University, and a seventh generation Alabamian.

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Alabama Legislative Black Caucus holds meetings on racism in wake of George Floyd death

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, is the chair of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus.

Members of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in recent months have been meeting with Gov. Kay Ivey, state law enforcement officials and others to voice their concern over systemic racism in Alabama, the group said in a statement Friday. 

Alabama Legislative Black Caucus members in June met with Ivey, and in follow-up meetings with other state officials and leaders of higher education, members discussed what they believe needs changing to battle racism in Alabama, according to the press release. 

“We are very appreciative of Governor Ivey and all of the officials with whom we have met thus far,” said State Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, chairwoman of the ALBC, in a statement. “Our dialogues have been very substantive and productive as the Caucus presented our concerns and recommendations. Our goal is to get to the root of and eradicate racism and anything that communicates hatred, bigotry or divisiveness within the State of Alabama. The tragic and senseless death of George Floyd caused us all to take a closer look at the systemic racism at work here in Alabama.”

ALBC members met with officials from Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Sheriffs Association, the Alabama Association of Police Chiefs and Katie Britt, president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama along with BCA’s Executive Leadership Committee.

Members also met with The University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis St. John, and Jay Gogue, president of Auburn University. 

In the statement, ALBC members applauded the University of Alabama’s Board of Trustees for voting unanimously to rename Nott Hall — named for Josiah Nott, a doctor who believed in white superiority — Honors Hall. 

“The University of Alabama had already started this endeavor before our meeting with them this past Tuesday,” said State Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Gallion, vice chairman of ALBC, in a statement. “That was a great first step and strong leadership was shown. We are looking forward to the other institutions of higher learning in Alabama to do the same as well. The Caucus also hopes that all members of the Alabama Legislature have been inspired to adopt and make meaningful changes in legislation that governs our state.”

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Figures said the group of elected senators and representatives are holding these talks, with plans for others, “so that people will stop focusing on Alabama’s sordid past, and instead see a beautiful Alabama present, and the makings of a bright future for all Alabamians.” 

“During each of these meetings, our members have had the opportunity to voice what we feel the necessary changes should be. I just hope this openness to positive change continues throughout the upcoming 2021 Alabama Legislative Session,” said State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, in a statement. 

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State senator calls for Rep. Dismukes to resign over celebration of former Klan leader

“Since first being elected in 1996, I’ve had a policy of not publicly criticizing other elected officials, but at this time I am making an exception since Rep. Dismukes is MY state representative,” Chambliss wrote in a tweet. “He does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people in District 88.” 

Eddie Burkhalter

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State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for the resignation of Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville.

State Sen Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville, on Monday called for the resignation of Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, after posting to social media about attending a birthday celebration for Nathanial Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

Dismukes posted a photo of himself on Sunday speaking at Fort Dixie outside of Selma on Saturday, the same day that late Congressman and Civil Rights hero Rep. John Lewis, was honored in Selma. 

“Since first being elected in 1996, I’ve had a policy of not publicly criticizing other elected officials, but at this time I am making an exception since Rep. Dismukes is MY state representative,” Chambliss wrote in a tweet. “He does not represent my views or the views of the vast majority of people in District 88.” 

“The post is bad enough, the timing is even worse, but the real problem is that an elected official in 2020 would attend a celebration of the life of someone that led a group that terrorized and killed other human beings,” Chambliss continued in the tweet. “He has had 24 hours to understand why people are so upset, but his interview on WSFA a few moments ago confirms that he is lacking in understanding and judgment — he should resign immediately.” 

Dismukes in the WSFA interview told a reporter that he hadn’t thought about the memorial for Rep. Lewis and connected it to his attendance at the celebration for the Klan leader. 

Dismukes told WSFA that he won’t apologize for his family’s service in the “war between the states” that he said wasn’t primarily fought over slavery, that he’s not a racist but that he doesn’t see the need for the current racial reconciliation. 

“We no longer drink from separate water fountains, and we no longer have segregated schools,” Dismukes told WSFA. “You know there’s abundant work opportunities for all colors, there’s abundant scholarship opportunities for all colors. So what are you asking that needs to be racially reconciled?”

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Chambliss may be the first Republican lawmaker in Alabama to call for Dismukes’ resignation, but others have expressed concern over his social media post and attendance at the event. 

Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement addressing the post, and said he believes voters should decide whether Dismukes keeps his office. 

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party,” Lathan said in the statement. 

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“Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.”

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Republicans are concerned by Rep. Dismukes’ Confederate social media posts

Brandon Moseley

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Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, is facing criticism for attending a birthday celebration for the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, on Monday released a statement in response to a recent social media post by State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, who was in Selma Saturday celebrating Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest’s birthday over the weekend. This was while much of the rest of the state was celebrating the life of Alabama native and Civil Rights Movement legend Congressman John Lewis.

“The Alabama Republican Caucus is comprised of 75 men and women, each of whom have their own beliefs and principles that guide their lives,” Ledbetter said. “The personal beliefs expressed by any one member do not reflect the beliefs of the others, and their activities outside the Legislature should be considered their own, as well.”

“Several of our Republican Caucus members have reached out to me with concerns about the content and timing of a recent social media post by State Rep. Will Dismukes, and I, as a House member, share those concerns,” Ledbetter continued. “We live in a nation that guarantees each citizen the right to express the ideas they wish to share, and in the case of a public official, voters will ultimately decide if they agree with those ideas.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, also released a statement regarding the controversial social media post.

“The Alabama House cannot police the beliefs, statements, and activities of its members outside the Legislature as that is a job best assigned to voters in each House district across the state,” McCutcheon said. “It is important to note, however, that I and many other members of the House devoted our weekend toward honoring an Alabama native and civil rights icon who dedicated his life to securing freedom, liberty, and equality for all Americans.”

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party,” said Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan. “Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.”

“The Alabama of today was on full, honorable display as we paid humble tribute this weekend to the life of Congressman John Lewis,” Lathan continued. “That is the Alabama that we are proud of — showing the nation and world that we are one in the common goals of equality for all of our citizens.”

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“It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African-Americans,” Lathan concluded. “I strongly urge his constituents to contact Rep. Dismukes to articulate and share with him their thoughts on his personal actions.”

On Sunday, Dismukes shared several pictures from the celebration of Gen. Forest’s birthday, with the caption: “Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!”

After the comments became a social media firestorm that has garnered press attention, Dismukes attempted to explain his position.

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“First and foremost, my post yesterday was in no way related to disrespecting the passing of Rep. John Lewis,” Dismukes said. “That wasn’t even a thought in my mind. That is not who I am as a person. I am a transparent person. To the point that as a public official I lay it all there for the people to see for better or for worse at times. My post yesterday was as usual me sharing a previous days events. The post was in no way intended to seem as if I was glorifying the Klan or any party thereof. The very atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country.”

“Also, we are all individual members that make up our legislature. I made a post independent of my colleagues,” Dismukes continued. “I made a post independent of my colleagues. My regret is that I have allowed them to be put in a negative light. If you disagree with me and my beliefs do not hold them under the same umbrella. I can live with a dislike for me, but not fellow members, or members of my own personal family. Our body as a whole is made up of some of the finest people I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with, both Democrat and Republican. I close by reiterating that my post was in no way glorifying the Klan or disrespecting the late Rep. John Lewis.”

The Alabama Democratic Party had already come out and demanded that Dismukes resign months ago when it became known that he, a minister, was chaplain for a Sons of the Confederacy chapter in central Alabama.

Dismukes is serving in his first term in the Alabama House. He briefly was a congressional candidate in Alabama’s 2nd District but dropped out of the race before the Republican Primary.

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Alabama lawmaker faces sharp criticism over celebration of former KKK leader

Micah Danney

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State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, shared a post on Facebook after a birthday celebration for Nathan Bedford Forrest, the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

State Rep. Will Dismukes, R-Prattville, is again facing calls to resign over a social media post he made about his participation in an event honoring Confederate heritage.

Dismukes posted a photo of himself on Sunday speaking at Fort Dixie the day before, where a yearly event was held celebrating the birthday of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Had a great time at Fort Dixie speaking and giving the invocation for Nathan Bedford Forrest annual birthday celebration. Always a great time and some sure enough good eating!!” Dismukes wrote above a photo of himself speaking on a porch adorned with a portrait of Forrest and several Confederate flags. The post is no longer visible.

Criticism was swift on social media as word spread that Dismukes attended the celebration on the same weekend that the late Congressman and Civil Rights hero, Rep. John Lewis, was honored in Selma, where Lewis was nearly beaten to death in 1965, during the march for voting rights that crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

Alabama Democratic Party Executive Director Wade Perry called for Dismukes to resign.

“Will Dismukes has demonstrated yet again why he is unfit to hold public office,” Perry said in a statement. “Americans don’t celebrate racists or traitors. Nathan Bedford Forrest was both. And a founder of the Klan. The Alabama Democratic Party renews our call for Dismukes to resign. It’s 2020 and it’s time for racial extremists like Will Dismukes to go away.”

Dismukes posted a statement on Monday addressing the criticism: “First and foremost, my post yesterday was in no way related to disrespecting the passing of Rep. John Lewis. That wasn’t even a thought in my mind. That is not who I am as a person.

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“I am a transparent person. To the point that as a public official I lay it all there for the people to see for better or for worse at times. My post yesterday was as usual me sharing a previous days events. The post was in no way intended to seem as if I was glorifying the Klan or any party thereof. The very atrocities and actions they committed are a disgrace to our country.

“Also, we are all individual members that make up our legislature. I made a post independent of my colleagues. My regret is that I have allowed them to be put in a negative light. If you disagree with me and my beliefs do not hold them under the same umbrella. I can live with a dislike for me, but not fellow members, or members of my own personal family. Our body as a whole is made up of some of the finest people I have ever had the honor of knowing and working with, both Democrat and Republican.

“I close by reiterating that my post was in no way glorifying the Klan or disrespecting the late Rep. John Lewis.”

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Alabama Republican Party Chairman Terry Lathan issued a statement addressing the post:

“While Rep. Dismukes has released a statement attempting to clarify his actions as a private citizen attending a celebration of the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, Alabamians hold their elected officials to a high standard of actions. So does the Republican Party.

“Rep. Dismukes offered no explanation for why he participated in a birthday celebration of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Additionally, I find his statement to be shallow in understanding why his activities are deeply offensive to so many Alabamians. His constituents will be the final decision-makers of his political future.

“The Alabama of today was on full, honorable display as we paid humble tribute this weekend to the life of Congressman John Lewis. That is the Alabama that we are proud of – showing the nation and world that we are one in the common goals of equality for all of our citizens.

“It is one thing to honor one’s Southern heritage, however, it is completely another issue to specifically commemorate the leader of an organization with an indisputable history of unconscionable actions and atrocities toward African-Americans. I strongly urge his constituents to contact Rep. Dismukes to articulate and share with him their thoughts on his personal actions.”

House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, issued a statement saying that the beliefs of one member don’t reflect the beliefs of all, and that several Republican Caucus members expressed concern to him about the content and timing of Dismukes’ post.

We live in a nation that guarantees each citizen the right to express the ideas they wish to share, and in the case of a public official, voters will ultimately decide if they agree with those ideas.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, on Monday issued his own statement:

“The Alabama House cannot police the beliefs, statements, and activities of its members outside the Legislature as that is a job best assigned to voters in each House district across the state.  

“It is important to note, however, that I and many other members of the House devoted our weekend toward honoring an Alabama native and civil rights icon who dedicated his life to securing freedom, liberty, and equality for all Americans.”

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, tweeted a stern rebuke on Sunday: “I cannot fathom why anyone in 2020 celebrates the birthday of the 1st KKK Grand Wizard. And while the body of a civil rights icon beaten by the Klan lies at state Capitol being honored by GOP/Dem leaders from all over the state. This mentality does not rep my party or my faith.”

Another GOP colleague, Rep. Allen Farley, R-McCalla, responded to a constituent about the matter in a tweet

“Scott, As a Christian, Conservative, member of the Republican Party, I was proud of the comments of my colleague Rep. Danny Garrett. Rep Will Dismukes’ actions were also unfathomable to me. I believe it will take the voters in House Dist. 88 to remove Rep. Dismukes from office,” Farley said.

While fellow Republican officials said that Dismukes’ constituents should decide if he remains in office, the College Republican Federation of Alabama issued a statement on Monday calling for him to resign.

“Representative Dismukes’s Facebook post of him at an event that celebrated former KKK Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest is unacceptable and has no place in the State Legislature or the Republican Party,” the statement said.

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