Bishop sees red, GOP cheers
By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Criticism has rained down on Alabama's pugnacious GOP state Sen. Charles Bishop, whose right fist clipped the jaw of Democratic Senate colleague Lowell Barron to bring a fitting end to a bitterly partisan legislative session in the state government's uppercut chamber.
But Bishop is not a pariah everywhere. In fact, his popularity has soared within the Republican Party.
According to a state GOP executive committee member, Bishop was accorded a standing ovation from the more than 500 attendees at a summer Republican "Red State" Dinner in Birmingham last week.
GOP presidential candidate U.S. Sen. John McCain, who was the speaker at the event, received a perfunctory welcome and a courtesy ovation following his remarks, in sharp contrast to Bishop's "overtly rousing recognition (that) was long and loud with applause, cheers and support," the GOP official reported.
"Many Republicans will say outwardly the Bishop punch of Lowell Barron was 'ghastly, horrid, or ridiculous,' but secretly behind closed doors we all cheered," said the committee member.
Mobile County Democratic Chairman Brad Warren declared it "a sad day for Alabama" when such "audacious behavior" is applauded.
"No wonder they continue to be the minority party in our State with such malice and hatred in their hearts," said Warren.
Regardless of any rancor between Barron and Bishop, Barron was and is an elected official whose position "command(s) him more respect than was shown by throwing a sissy punch ...," said Warren.
"Bishop should be ashamed of his actions and the Republican Party ought to be embarrassed of a standing ovation for a (cheap) shot" while giving short shrift "to a POW war hero seeking their Party's highest nomination," said Warren.
"I would like to say that sometimes taking someone to the woodshed is in order, but not in the public domain in the highest chamber in the State of Alabama," Warren said. "Alabama is on a roll with industrial recruiting worldwide. This is an embarrassment of the highest order."
A coalition of 12 Republican state senators and five dissident Democrats chafed under what they regarded as a punitive organization of the Senate by the 18 Democratic state senators who comprised the majority. The minority's stalling tactics frustrated the Democratic majority and foul and threatening language often marred exchanges during the unproductive session.
A complaint against the scrapper from Jasper has been referred to the Senate's Committee on Ethics and Conduct, a body that reportedly has neither met nor organized. Its five members include GOP state Sen. Scott Beason, who is listed as the committee chairman because his name comes first alphabetically, and state Sen. Jim Pruitt, a Democrat and a key member of the minority coalition.
In a letter to members of the committee, the venerable Senate secretary McDowell Lee refers to Beason as "chairman," a Republican state senator said. However, it was uncertain whether Beason would actually preside as chairman once the committee meets. According to the senator, the rules to expel a fellow senator call for four of the five members to favor the ouster.
Barron has said he would await a ruling from the Senate body before deciding whether to file criminal or civil charges against Bishop, who punched him on the Senate floor on the last day of the regular session of the Alabama Legislature.
Bishop contends that Barron provoked him, calling him a "son of a
b-tch." Democratic senators and allies of Barron, who were within hearing and striking distance at the time of the incident, dispute Bishop's claim.
Bishop said both men should be punished by the Ethics Committee.
"I expect to be reprimanded. I need to be. I did something we can't tolerate on the Senate floor, but at the same time, I expect Lowell Barron to be reprimanded," he said.
Both men are in their 60's.