AP photos/Alabama Public Television by Adam Vincent|
Not exactly the Queensbury Rules: In the first two of these images from video, state Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, right, punches Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron of Fyffe, left, on the floor of the Senate on Thursday. In the third image from the Statehouse in Montgomery, the two senators scuffle after the punch was delivered.
Punch thrown in Senate scuffle
Altercation between Jasper Republican and former Senate pro tem marks last day of session
By M.J. Ellington
MONTGOMERY — The state Senate may give new meaning to the saying that politics is a contact sport. On the final day of a contentious session, one state senator punched another.
The ongoing debate between majority Democrats and a minority coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats was in recess when Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, socked Sen. Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, in the head. But an Alabama Public Television cameraman was there to record the incident, which was later replayed over and over on television and Web sites.
“We had an incident on the floor of the Senate,” Bishop, 69, said later. “Afterwards, Barron chose to call me an S.O.B., and my right hand did what it should have done, but not in this place. I’m not very proud of it. I just responded. This is not the way grown people behave.”
But Bishop stopped short of an apology to Barron, saying that as “a boy raised in the hills of Arkansas,” he could not allow anybody to insult the name of his late mother.
Barron initially refused to comment and went into a closed-door meeting with other Democrats. Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, was seen going into the Democratic meeting carrying first aid supplies, but she said Barron was not hurt. He later denied calling Bishop anything.
The APT camera that recorded >the action also caught Bishop’s reply to Barron, in which he reportedly used the “F word” to describe him.
Barron is the former Senate pro tem, and Bishop is a vocal Republican who has challenged many of Barron’s decisions that he views as unfair to the Senate minority.
Sen. Tom Butler, D-Madison, and Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, were in the Senate chamber when the incident began. Both said they had their backs turned when Bishop’s blow sent Barron reeling backwards across a desk and into a chair.
“I had just been over there, but I turned my back and walked over to my desk,” Butler said. “I did not see it.”
Orr was in the room as well, but also said he has his back to Bishop and Barron. “I really did not see anything,” Orr said.
Democrats called for Bishop to be banned from the Senate chamber and the seventh floor of the Statehouse for the day for safety reasons. Some cited behavioral signals earlier in the session that they claimed showed Bishop might need professional help with his anger.
Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, said he was about 18 inches from the two men when the altercation occurred. Griffith said that, as physician, he believes Bishop needs professional evaluation. “I really do not believe Sen. Bishop could help himself,” Griffith said.
Others expressed fear that another incident might erupt.
Republicans objected, saying that banning Bishop was an overreaction, and that Barron was also at fault. They cited repeated incidents of name-calling, bullying and “outright lies” during the session that they said simply caused Bishop to boil over.
With a Democratic motion to ban Bishop for the day up for a vote, Bishop made a statement to his colleagues and voluntarily left the chamber. He said he did not want his colleagues to vote on dismissing him.
“The first thing I did when I got out of here was apologize to my colleagues,” Bishop said of the moments after the incident. “But you can’t call grown men sons of bitches. I can tell you that when I come back, you call my mother a bitch, I may deck you again.”
The senator said he was ashamed that the incident happened in the Senate chamber, a place that he said should be above such conduct. “I’m going home, and y’all have a good day,” he said as he left the chamber.
After Bishop left the Senate chamber, Butler said the incident was embarrassing to everyone, but it was right for Bishop to leave. “It shows that this has been an extremely difficult session,” Butler said.
The fight came as the minority coalition senators were using delaying tactics to force the Democratic leadership to bring up an election reform bill to ban transfers of campaign donations between political action committees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
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