By KIM CHANDLER and BLAKE PATERSON Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama House Speaker Mac McCutcheon made a plea for cordiality and professionalism on Thursday, the day after tempers flared in the chamber.
The Republican speaker told lawmakers that they are expected to be respectful to each other and that voters expect the representatives to “conduct ourselves professionally.”
“The well of this chamber is not a professional wrestling ring and the microphones are not to be used for grandstanding, personal promotion, or blindsided attacks on other members,” McCutcheon said.
McCutcheon made the remarks the morning after a tense Wednesday that saw accusations of racist undertones in legislation, a lawmaker’s retaliatory threat to filibuster bills, and a representative’s call to censure another for past comments on an abortion bill that included calling the president’s son “evidently retarded.”
McCutcheon said he would take a firmer hand in gaveling down lawmakers who break House decorum rules while at House microphones. The speaker suggested both parties had been at fault.
Representatives gave McCutcheon a standing ovation.
Democratic Rep. Thomas Jackson of Thomasville responded that the problems run deeper than decorum issues.
“The biggest elephant in this room is not over at the University of Alabama. It’s racism,” Jackson said. “The whole nation is speaking about how divisive we are.”
Tensions initially ran high Wednesday over a bill that would limit university officials’ ability to cancel campus speakers.
The bill directed universities to develop free speech policies. The policies would include that campuses “shall be open to any speaker whom the institution’s student organizations or faculty have invited.”
Supporters said the bill was to encourage free expression, but Democrats argued the bill offered protections to ‘alt-right,’ neo-Nazi or racist speakers.
“I believe in my heart of hearts that this bill is designed to protect individuals that are racist,” said Rep. Juandalynn Givan, a Birmingham Democrat. “Racist, racist, racist, racist, racist, racist, racist. That is all this is.”
Tempers flared at the end of the day when Republican Rep. Arnold Mooney interrupted debate to call for the censure of Rep. John Rogers over remarks he made during the debate on a proposed abortion ban.
In a letter to the speaker, Mooney said Rogers, a Birmingham Democrat, brought “shame” on Alabama. Rogers earlier this month called the president’s son “evidently retarded.” Rogers used the slur to describe Donald Trump Jr. and also suggested he should have been aborted.
“Representatives Rogers’ comment have brought national shame and ridicule upon the House,” Mooney wrote.
McCutcheon gaveled down Mooney, saying he could submit the letter but there was “no call for this.” Democrats accused Mooney of grandstanding after announcing his campaign for U.S. Senate.
Rogers earlier on Wednesday had threatened to filibuster bills in retaliation for a piece of his legislation stalling.