A controversial member of the Georgia House of Representatives has lost his position in leadership and his place on a civics education study committee after sending colleagues an article challenging slavery as the root cause of the Civil War.
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, announced Friday that Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, would no longer chair the House Human Relations and Aging Committee, a post he has held for the past five years. In addition, Ralston announced he was rescinding his nomination of Benton to fill one of three seats on a study committee set up to recommend improvements in civics education in Georgia’s public schools.
House spokesman Kaleb McMichen said Ralston received a package from Benton Friday containing an article titled “The Absurdity of Slavery as the Cause of the War Between the States.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has seen a mailer sent to another House member, which includes the printed inscription “Thought this might be of interest to you” above Benton’s signature.
Benton has courted controversy over the past two years with provocative comments about the Civil War, race relations and the Ku Klux Klan. In an interview with the AJC published in January 2016, Benton said the Klan “was not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order.”
“It made a lot of people straighten up,” he said. “I’m not saying what they did was right. It’s just the way things were.”
Benton also suggested that criticism of the Confederate flag was a distraction from “black-on-black crime” and he sponsored bills to force the state to recognize Confederate Memorial Day, Robert E. Lee’s birthday and prohibit the moving of Confederate monuments.
Throughout, Ralston had refrained from directly chastising Benton by name, and earlier this month, the speaker named Benton, a retired middle school teacher, to the study committee.
Apparently, the mailer was the final straw. When asked if Ralston disagreed with Benton’s distribution of the article, McMichen said, “The actions he has taken reflect his sentiments on this matter.”
Ralston “is focused on the future, not the past,” he said.
Re. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee, will take over as chair of Benton’s committee. House Education Committee Chairman Brooks Coleman, R-Duluth, will serve in Benton’s place on the civics study committee.
It is not clear if Benton used his taxpayer-funded office account to mail the article to House members or which House members received it. McMichen referred those questions to Benton.