Under the Dome: Alvin Holmes calls Clarence Thomas “Uncle Tom”

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Rep. Alvin Holmes speaks following the Martin Luther King Day parade on Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, Ala. on Monday Jan 20, 2014. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

Rep. Alvin Holmes speaks following the Martin Luther King Day parade on Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, Ala. on Monday Jan 20, 2014. (Montgomery Advertiser, Mickey Welsh)

It’s no surprise that Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, burst out on the House floor last week with comments that were, well, seemingly random.

Rep. John Merrill, R-Tuscaloosa, was discussing his bill that would essentially change the state test structure for professional engineers and land surveyors. The bill gave the State Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors the ability to make decisions about the testing.

“A number of times, he’ll use a vehicle to expound his personal beliefs unrelated to the Legislature,” Merrill said.

After Merrill discussed the bill, Holmes went to the podium and asked how many black members were on the board. Merrill, knowing the answer off the top of his head, said none.

Holmes asked how many have applied in the past. Apparently, Merrill was able to get that information. The answer was none — and that the staff member managing the board has tried to recruit minority applicants.

Somehow the conversation shifted from that to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Holmes called Thomas an “Uncle Tom,” and listeners heard him appear to say that he didn’t like Thomas because he was married to a white woman.

Shortly after, House Speaker Mike Hubbard told Holmes he needed to keep comments “germane to the subject.”

Holmes replied with what could possibly be a fact about Thomas — that he wanted to be an engineer but couldn’t get into school for it.

Just before the House erupted into laughter, Hubbard remarked that he just had to settle for Supreme Court Justice instead.

And so Tweets from the press room went out.

Holmes, who said he’s had news reporters call him from across the country, clarified his comments for the Advertiser.

“I said that Clarence Thomas was an Uncle Tom because he went to college on an affirmative action program,” Holmes said. “I said since he’s been on the U.S. Supreme Court, he has voted against every affirmative action program to help poor people get an education. That’s the reason I called him an Uncle Tom.”

Holmes added that despite what people may have thought they heard, he didn’t say he hated Thomas because he was married to a white woman.

“I said some people might think I’m against him because he’s married to a white lady,” Holmes said, adding that he was the legislator who introduced Alabama’s constitutional amendment to repeal the ban on interracial marriage in 1999.

The state had long stopped enforcing the law because the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled such laws unconstitutional, but Alabama was the last state in the country to still have such a law on its books.

“I support interracial marriage 100 percent,” Holmes said.

Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham (File)

Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham (File)

Todd plans challenge to gay marriage ban

As legal challenges mount nationwide against state bans on same-sex marriage, a Birmingham lawmaker says she will proceed with her own challenge to Alabama’s constitutional amendment against it.

Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, who married her longtime partner Jennifer Clarke in Massachusetts on Sept. 14, said Tuesday their challenge will start with their state tax return.

“I’m filing my taxes jointly,” she said. “We’ll see what they do with that, and go from there.”

The Internal Revenue Service last summer said that married same-sex couples would be able to file jointly on their federal income tax returns, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade states from recognizing same-sex unions.

Todd’s move comes as same-sex marriage bans in other states are facing legal challenges. Last week, a federal judge found Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Earlier in the week, another federal judge said the state of Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, despite Kentucky’s ban on it. The Southern Poverty Law Center is also planning to challenge Alabama’s ban.

Todd, the first openly gay person elected to the Alabama Legislature, has said for months she plans a legal challenge to Alabama’s ban, and has introduced a constitutional amendment to repeal the ban.

“(It) keeps them on their toes,” she said. “They can’t treat us differently.”

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale

Maybe next week

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gardendale, made more than a few Republicans uneasy Tuesday as he began shopping around a bill aimed at repealing Common Core curricula currently administered by the State Department of Education.

The issue has become somewhat divisive in the state’s Republican Party, with the business wing of the party championing the standards, developed by the National Governors’ Association, as a way to improve the educational standards of the state. The right wing of the party views the standards with suspicion, accusing them of everything from undermining local control of education to serving as propaganda for the Obama administration.

The state Board of Education says implementation of the standards has always been a state-level project, with no input from the federal government.

Both House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, have been wary about getting the Legislature involved in the debate, saying the issue is for the state Board of Education to decide.

Beason, a popular figure on the Republican right, said Thursday some errors in the bill required a redraft. When dropped, he said, the legislation would essentially work as a moratoria on the implementation of additional Common Core standards.

“Let’s leave what we’ve got, and allow local school boards if they want to do something different and go back to the old standards and take a good rational approach to it,” he said. “There seems to be more stomach for that plan.”

 – posted by Kala Kachmar and Brian Lyman

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