Controversial Ga. lawmaker punished for Civil War mailer


A controversial member of the Georgia House of Representatives has lost his position in leadership and his place on a civics education study committee after sending colleagues an article challenging slavery as the root cause of the Civil War.

House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, announced Friday that Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, would no longer chair the House Human Relations and Aging Committee, a post he has held for the past five years. In addition, Ralston announced he was rescinding his nomination of Benton to fill one of three seats on a study committee set up to recommend improvements in civics education in Georgia’s public schools.

House spokesman Kaleb McMichen said Ralston received a package from Benton Friday containing an article titled “The Absurdity of Slavery as the Cause of the War Between the States.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has seen a mailer sent to another House member, which includes the printed inscription “Thought this might be of interest to you” above Benton’s signature.

Benton has courted controversy over the past two years with provocative comments about the Civil War, race relations and the Ku Klux Klan. In an interview with the AJC published in January 2016, Benton said the Klan “was not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order.”

“It made a lot of people straighten up,” he said. “I’m not saying what they did was right. It’s just the way things were.”

Benton also suggested that criticism of the Confederate flag was a distraction from “black-on-black crime” and he sponsored bills to force the state to recognize Confederate Memorial Day, Robert E. Lee’s birthday and prohibit the moving of Confederate monuments.

Throughout, Ralston had refrained from directly chastising Benton by name, and earlier this month, the speaker named Benton, a retired middle school teacher, to the study committee.

Apparently, the mailer was the final straw. When asked if Ralston disagreed with Benton’s distribution of the article, McMichen said, “The actions he has taken reflect his sentiments on this matter.”

Ralston “is focused on the future, not the past,” he said.

Re. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, will take over as chair of Benton’s committee. House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, will serve in Benton’s place on the civics study committee.

It is not clear if Benton used his taxpayer-funded office account to mail the article to House members or which House members received it. McMichen referred those questions to Benton.


Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Georgia Politics

The Week: Blank says kneeling should not be seen as disrespect
The Week: Blank says kneeling should not be seen as disrespect

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank offered his own interpretation of protests NFL players have staged this season by kneeling during the national anthem. “It’s very clear that the players have no interest whatsoever in being disrespectful to the flag or the anthem,” Blank told GPB’s Ricky Bevington this past week. &ldquo...
Dunwoody man goes from battling brain cancer to DNR hunting consultant
Dunwoody man goes from battling brain cancer to DNR hunting consultant

When Chip Madren was in seventh grade, doctors told his family the type of brain cancer he had gave him about two more years to live. It was his love of hunting that caused him to fight for his life, his mother said, after being promised a trip to Montana when he got better. “He was not fighting well up until that time,” Lea Madren said...
Move for freer political speech divides Georgia’s religious community
Move for freer political speech divides Georgia’s religious community

It’s a regular ritual on Sundays before big votes: Candidates fan out to churches across the state, take prominent perches near the pulpit and receive warm applause from parishioners. And preachers inevitably shower them with kind words, though they stop short of much more lest they cross an invisible line. That’s exactly what happened...
Group blames low EPD funding for Georgia’s water pollution problems
Group blames low EPD funding for Georgia’s water pollution problems

Members of a group of clean water advocates said the General Assembly’s failure to fully fund the Environmental Protection Division is a recurring theme of the organization’s annual list of problematic waterways and policies. Joe Moore, a member of the Georgia Water Coalition, said the Legislature harms the state’s waterways when...
Georgia’s craft brewers would win big in Senate tax bill
Georgia’s craft brewers would win big in Senate tax bill

The U.S. Senate’s new tax bill would give Georgia’s small craft breweries some holiday cheer months after a watershed state law provided a major economic boon to beer makers and liquor distillers. The would-be Christmas present comes in the form of a proposed tax decrease, which industry advocates say would put thousands of dollars into...
More Stories