State lawmaker stripped of committee chair following controversial remarks about the late John Lewis

State lawmaker stripped of committee chair following controversial remarks about the late John Lewis
FILE: Rep. Tommy Benton, R - Jefferson, has made controversial statements about the Ku Klux Klan and Southern history. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

ATLANTA — A state lawmaker has been stripped from his chair in the state’s House Retirement Committee following controversial comments he made in a radio interview about the late John Lewis.

During the interview with WJJC AM in Augusta, Rep. Tommy Benton was asked about push by several lawmakers to have a statue of John Lewis replace one of Alexander Hamilton Stephens in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Stephens served as the vice president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, and later as the 50th Governor of Georgia from 1882 until his death in 1883.

During the interview, Benton was asked about the proposal and said the following:

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Benton: “I notice that there’s a movement to replace Alexander Stephens’ statue in Washington D.C. with that of John Lewis. 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.

“Now, the other person they’re talking about replacing his statue with -- I have never read of a significant piece of legislation That was passed with his name on it.”

Host: “Who is that?”

Benton: “John Lewis. His 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 -- or he milked it for 50 years.”

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In a statement, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston said he removed Rep. Tommy Benton from the committee because his “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 in the statement. “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.”

This is not the first time Benton has caused controversy. He also opposed building a statue of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on Capitol grounds and once said the Ku Klux Klan made “people straighten up.”

Benton, a retired teacher, represents Georgia’s 31st District in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Information from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution used in this article.

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