Fight between lawmakers on Senate floor gives Alabama Legislature another black eye


A Republican lawmaker slugging a Democratic colleague in the Alabama Senate this week reminded political observers of another black eye for the Legislature: Eight years ago, the lieutenant governor urinated in a jug, discreetly, at the front of the Senate chamber.

Both incidents occurred as tensions simmered over Senate operating rules. And both became fodder for TV comics and commentators.

"It's something everyone is talking about and some people are laughing about. It's a black eye," Glen Browder, a political science professor and former member of the Alabama Legislature and U.S. House, said of the fight.

"It feeds into the stereotype of the rural South," said Merle Black, an expert in Southern politics at Emery University in Atlanta.

Browder, who teaches political science at Jacksonville State University, and Black agreed on something else: Alabama's single blow wasn't nearly as bad as some brawls in foreign legislatures, including a large one last month in Taiwan.

"These are just two guys. It didn't get any more involved," Black said.

On Thursday, the final day of the 2007 regular session of the Legislature, Republican Sen. Charles Bishop and Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron were having an emotional exchange when Bishop hit Barron in the side of the head, knocking him over a desk. Alabama Public Television tape captured the punch.

Security officers and other senators pulled Bishop away before another blow could be landed.

On Friday, Barron was still considering whether to file charges, an aide said.

Tensions between senators had flared since the session began in March, and security officers had stepped between feuding lawmakers before. But the tension had never resulted in violence until Thursday.

The ensuing national attention was reminiscent of 1999, when then-Lt. Gov. Steve Windom, a Republican, refused to leave his post at the front of the Senate chamber during a long meeting because he feared Democrats would strip him of power as the presiding officer. Rather than going to the restroom, he urinated in a jug that was hidden from view behind his desk.

The event dogged him in 2003 when he ran for governor and got beaten badly.

Windom, now a lobbyist, declined to discuss the Senate's latest incident.

Black said the punch reinforces images of rural Southerners settling differences with their fists. Alabama still struggles with negative images created during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

"For a lot of people, their image of Alabama is stuck in 1965," said David Lanoue, chairman of the political science department at the University of Alabama. "When something like this happens, it plays into their image of Alabama."

Lanoue said both incidents caused the state great embarrassment, but noted one major difference with the latest one.

"The difference is we have the video and we are in the age of YouTube," he said.




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