MONTGOMERY, ALA. - Alabama’s GOP-dominated legislature redrew legislative maps Friday under court order to fix racial gerrymandering, punctuating a session rife with racial turmoil over issues such as the protection of Confederate monuments and an email that compared lawmakers to monkeys.
The Senate approved new district maps Friday and sent them to the governor despite objections from black Democrats who said the new ones are still gerrymandered to maintain white GOP dominance in the conservative state.
In January, a three-judge panel ordered legislators to redraw lines before the 2018 elections, saying Republicans had improperly made race the predominant factor in drawing 12 of 140 legislative districts.
The redistricting approval was part of a session peppered with tensions on issues such as a bill to protect Confederate monuments and Republicans use of cloture to force votes.
GOP legislative leaders said they’re confident they’ve addressed problems found by the federal courts and that the new maps would comply with other redistricting decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It’s fair. It puts back counties and precincts like the court told us to do. … It will go back to the three-judge panel, and I think they will approve it,” said Sen. Gerald Dial, Republican chairman of the redistricting committee.
The battle will shift back to federal court where black lawmakers, who filed the initial lawsuit, said they would oppose approval of the new plans.
“It seems like we are going to end up in court again,” said Legislative Black Caucus Chairman John Knight, D-Montgomery. “It’s clear. You can look at the map. There is racial gerrymandering.”
One of the key disputes centered on Jefferson County, home to the state’s largest city, majority black Birmingham. The proposed new map would maintain a slim Republican majority in the Jefferson County delegation. The state centers power in Montgomery, which would give Republicans control over legislative issues affecting the majority-black local governments.
Tensions boiled over on the House floor Thursday after a white Republican lawmaker sent around an email about how caged monkeys will eventually stop reaching for a dangling banana as they slowly accept the status quo because their predecessors were punished by being sprayed with water.
“This is how today’s House and Senate operates, and this is why from time to time, ALL of the monkeys need to be REPLACED AT THE SAME TIME!” the email read.
The lawmaker Rep. Lynn Greer of Rogersville, said he thought the email was a joke about the need to replace congressional incumbents. It outraged black lawmakers in a state where civil rights demonstrators were sprayed with fire hoses in the 1960s.
“I’m not a monkey. My mother wasn’t a monkey, and neither was my father. You are a damn monkey,” Rep. John Rogers, a black lawmaker from Birmingham, shouted at the House member who sent the email.
Speaker Mac McCutcheon on Thursday asked lawmakers to hold hands and pray for unity. McCutcheon said he wants to implement sensitivity training for legislators, something that he said had been considered before this week’s conflict.
“I think the country as a whole has a real divide. I think this is an indicator of what the country is feeling,” he said of the divisions. “I would like us to make sure that we talk to each other, that we understand our differences and remember that we are all our human beings. We all have hearts, that we all have concerns.”
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said the tensions had been simmering for sometimes, and fights on protections for Confederate monuments, which were approved Friday, have not helped.
“There has been a divide for a long time. It was just that a reached a boiling point,” Daniels said.