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TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2007

GOP ovation for battling senator
Democrats calling for his resignation

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — The Republican state senator who punched a Democratic colleague in the face is finding that his party is standing with him — literally.

State Sen. Charles Bishop, R-Jasper, received a standing ovation from part of the audience at a GOP dinner Friday night in Birmingham, with the party's state chairman voicing words of support.

But he is also getting plenty of criticism from Democrats. Senate budget committee Chairman Hank Sanders, D-Selma, is the most vocal, sending an "open letter" to the news media calling for Bishop's resignation.

"Senator Bishop, I call on you to resign because you are a danger to other senators, Senate staff and all who may come in contact with you in and around the Senate," Sanders wrote.

The sentiments were the exact opposite Friday night at the Republican dinner attended by 575 people. Before presidential candidate Sen. John McCain spoke to the group, state party Chairman Mike Hubbard of Auburn told the audience that Bishop had been "much maligned" in recent days and asked him to stand.

As Bishop stood up, the audience burst into loud sustained applause, with part of the crowd giving him a standing ovation.

The senator said Monday he was humbled by the audience's reaction, particularly because he's a party switcher holding his first public office as a Republican.

"It said people are tired of this dictatorship stuff" in the Senate, he said.

University of Alabama political scientist William Stewart said Bishop's blow has given Alabama "a bad image" at the same time the governor is in France trying to recruit industry.

"I'm surprised he's being treated like a hero," said Stewart, whose father served in the Alabama House for eight years.

The blow occurred on June 7, the Legislature's final meeting day for the spring session. Tension was running high because of a session-long battle between Democrats and Republicans over Senate operating rules approved by the Democratic majority.

Bishop went to the desk of Senate Rules Committee Chairman Lowell Barron, D-Fyffe, and got into a heated exchange that ended with Bishop throwing a right fist to Barron's head. Bishop said he hit Barron after the senator called him a "son of a bitch." Barron and some other Democratic senators dispute that.

Hubbard, the GOP chairman and House minority leader, said Monday he doesn't condone one legislator hitting another, but he understands Bishop's frustration with the Senate's new operating rules. He said he asked Bishop to stand at the dinner so that the senator and the public "would understand he has a lot of friends and supporters."

Former party Chairman Elbert Peters of Huntsville was among those who stood to honor Bishop. "We all don't want him being picked on. I believe him about what he said was said to him," Peters said Monday.

State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham said Monday he was concerned by Bishop's ovation.

"To single the senator out and give him a rousing ovation for physically assaulting a colleague is emblematic of where we do not need to go as a state," Turnham said.

Sanders, in his open letter, said Bishop should resign because he has "tried to make the victim into the perpetrator."

Sanders wrote about heated exchanges Bishop has had with other senators during his three terms in the Legislature, including Sanders when both were Democrats.

"Some years ago, you threatened to whip me because I objected to you calling me 'Big Boy,' " Sanders wrote.

"That is so stupid coming from Hank Sanders," Bishop said. "He was the one who threatened to whip me."

'Persuasive arguments'

Stewart said Sanders had "some persuasive arguments" in his open letter, but he expects Bishop to end up with a censure, at most. "I certainly don't expect him to be expelled," Stewart said.

The Senate Ethics Committee, which will hear a complaint Barron filed against Bishop, has not yet gotten organized to hear the case, said Senate Majority Leader Zeb Little, who serves on the five-member committee.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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