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Originally published Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 10:41 AM

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Ala. rep shocks colleagues with racial remarks

A black lawmaker didn't break any legislative rules when writing an email referring to a white constituent's ancestors as incestuous slave owners, the Alabama House leader said Tuesday.

Associated Press

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. —

A black lawmaker didn't break any legislative rules when writing an email referring to a white constituent's ancestors as incestuous slave owners, the Alabama House leader said Tuesday.

Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard of Auburn said Thursday that neither he nor most other legislators share the views that Democratic Rep. Joseph Mitchell of Mobile expressed in the email to a Jefferson County man. He said the response from most legislators was, "I can't believe he would put out something like that."

But Hubbard said Mitchell has free speech rights.

"There is nothing in our rules that prevents someone from sending an email that has his personal opinions in it," Hubbard said.

Like the Republican leader, Mitchell's fellow Democrats quickly distanced themselves from the 19-year veteran of the Legislature.

Mitchell and many other members of the Legislature got an email from Eddie Maxwell of Jefferson County asking them not to pass gun control laws and saying that he would consider any legislation a violation of the state's constitution.

Mitchell sent back an email, referring to the man's "slave-holding, murdering, adulterous, baby-raping, incestuous ... kin folk."

Mitchell has missed much of this year's legislative session due to illness, but he confirmed the email. "That does sounds like me," he said in an interview.

Maxwell replied that this was not the kind of response he expected from a legislator. "I'm not a racist and I find your reply to be especially offensive concerning the position you hold," he wrote.

Mitchell said he was trying to explain that someone who was descended from slaves and was disenfranchised by racial language in the state's 112-year-old constitution might have a different view of the document than someone else.

The email exchange attracted attention because many legislators were on the distribution list.

State Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead, a former legislator, said, "There is no place in civil discourse for phrases such as the ones used by Rep. Mitchell."

House Democratic leader Craig Ford of Gadsden said, "I assure you that Joseph Mitchell does not speak for Democrats or anyone else other than himself."

Bradley Davidson, executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party, issued a statement calling the remarks "inflammatory" and said Mitchell "stands alone in this matter."

Mitchell was one of the Democratic legislators who survived the 2010 election, when Republicans won more than 60 percent of the seats in the Legislature and ended 136 years of Democratic control.

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