MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Alabama Rep. Alvin Holmes approached the House floor microphones during a contentious debate on an abortion bill and landed in the national spotlight by saying 99 percent of white lawmakers would want their daughters to have an abortion if pregnant by a black man.
“You ain’t gonna have no little black baby – if you got two other white children, and then she’s gonna have a little black baby running around there in the living room or in the den with the rest of them,” said the Montgomery Democrat on March 4.
Holmes, who was one of the first blacks elected to Alabama’s Legislature, has become known for statements – sometimes outlandish, sometimes brutally direct and sometimes funny – during a political career that has spanned 40 years in a conservative Southern state with a long history of civil rights struggles.
Holmes earlier this session called Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas one of history’s biggest “Uncle Toms.” He said there are some legislators, in his opinion, who are “first cousins to the KKK.” And his comments on the legislative floor have garnered thousands of hits on social media.
“He likes sensationalism and that is usually what he shoots for. It’s not the first time he has done it and it won’t be the last. But it sure gets him the attention,” Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, said.
Holmes, 72, came under fire from people who said he had gone too far.
“Representative Holmes continues to spout racist and derogatory language on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives. Voters in his district should be embarrassed by him and should expect more from their representative,” Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said.
Holmes on Wednesday said he stands by his words. He clarified that that his point was that older Alabamians, in his opinion, still oppose interracial marriage and don’t want mixed race grandchildren.
“The younger whites, most of them don’t care,” he in an interview.
Holmes was elected to the House of Representatives in 1974 just four years after African Americans, who hadn’t served since Reconstruction, returned to the Legislature.
He filed the 1992 lawsuit that took the Confederate battle flag off the Alabama Capitol’s dome where it had flown as symbol of southern defiance. Holmes has openly criticized governors, both Democrat and Republican. He sponsored a constitutional amendment to remove an interracial marriage ban from the Alabama Constitution and unsuccessfully fought for years to get sexual orientation included in the state hate crime statute.
Holmes said one of the things that he is most proud of is convincing the house clerk to begin hiring African Americans into professional positions.
“When I was first at the Capitol, the only blacks were janitors and maids,” Holmes said.
The short, mustached Holmes, with his distinctively loud, impassioned, southern drawl with high-pitched punches, is now the longest-serving House member after being re-elected year after year.
Rep. John Rogers, who would probably come a close second with Holmes in an outspokenness race, said Holmes is well-liked and well-known.
“Alvin is well known all over the state and the nation, really. In Montgomery, he’s like an icon,” Rogers, D-Birmingham, said.
Rogers said Holmes’ abortion comments were wrong, but other times he said Holmes, “says the things that other folks want to say, but are scared to say.”
“Alvin is like the agitator in the washing machine,” Rogers said.
While his comments on abortion garnered national attention, they made barely a ripple that night on the House floor.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard said Holmes is “very smart and knows exactly what he is doing.”
“Rep. Holmes has a very keen sense of what to say and do that will shock people and therefore generate media coverage and publicity. In the House, we’re kind of used to it and most members don’t take him seriously, but it does create media stories. I believe he thrives on that,” Hubbard said.
His legislative floor comments, once confined to the state of Alabama, are now quickly shared in the age of Twitter and YouTube.
“What’s wrong with the beer we got? I mean the beer we got drinks pretty good don’t it. I ain’t ever heard nobody complain about the beer we have,” Holmes said during debate in 2008 on a bill to prohibit the sale of beers with high alcohol content.
He once pulled out a wad of cash and said he would give $700 to anyone who shows him Bible verses specifying that marriage is between only a man and a woman. The challenge prompted hundreds of calls to the Alabama Statehouse.
Early in this four-year term, attempting to block a vote on a piece of legislation, Holmes contended it couldn’t legally come up for consideration. He listed by number, the state rule he said prohibited it.
House business came to a halt as Hubbard, the newly elected speaker, consulted with staff and searched for the citation Holmes gave.
There was no such rule. Holmes was making it up.
“He didn’t know that I didn’t know,” Holmes said with a laugh.
Holmes said the state has changed “tremendously” since he was first elected in 1974. However, he points to election results and the hate mail he receives as proof that it hasn’t completely changed. A letter he received after the abortion debate was filled with racial slurs, he said. Alabamians in 2000 voted to remove the ban on interracial marriage from the state constitution, but 40 percent of voters thought the ban should remain.
Through his career, Holmes said he just tries to call it like he sees it. He said he was surprised by the recent national attention.
“I had no idea they’d go all over the world like they did. I’ve made comments on the floor that were much more controversial than that,” Holmes said.
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