MONTGOMERY — Tensions erupted on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday when House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville) gaveled out State Rep. Napoleon Bracy (D-Prichard) and cut his microphone for attempting to address already-passed voting legislation.
The mood in the House has grown more strained in recent weeks after State Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville) introduced legislation to add criminal penalties for certain actions in assisting with absentee ballots, a move designed to crack down on ballot harvesting.
See also: Bill designed to crack down on ballot harvesting passes House, despite lengthy Democratic protest.
House Democrats have opposed the bill, claiming it will criminalize those who have no intent on committing election fraud.
Last week, State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) used debate time on a bill by State Rep. Kenneth Paschal (R-Pelham) to protest the ballot harvesting legislation. During the debate, Givan referenced a Jay-Z song to refer to Paschal as an "N-word."
In response to Givan's comments, House Speaker Pro-Tem Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) criticized Givan's conduct, both last week and throughout her tenure.
On Thursday, House Democrats engaged in a lengthy debate on every bill before the body.
During debate on a bill from State Rep. Jerry Starnes (R-Prattville) that would offer educational benefits to spouses of military servicemembers who were killed on state active-duty status, Bracy attempted to reference Kiel's bill by comparing the ability of Alabama servicemembers to vote using absentee ballots to Starnes's bill.
After Bracy mentioned absentee ballots, Ledbetter slammed his gavel to indicate Bracy was veering away from the bill being debated. When Bracy attempted to interject, Ledbetter threw down the gavel a second time and then a third. After another attempt by Bracy to explain the relevance of his comments, Ledbetter motioned for Bracy's microphone to be cut off.
After 10 seconds of microphone silence, the sound was restored, and Bracy continued his comments, saying the Speaker's actions were "disrespectful."
"That was dead wrong," Bracy said from the podium. "Because, whenever I come to this mic, I'm always very respectful, and I always stick to topic, and I'm always germane, and I'm always well-studied on the topics that we're discussing. People in this body don't even listen when people are talking, but I was very on topic. In four terms, I've never had my microphone turned off because I've always been on topic."
After the House adjourned, Ledbetter said he was well within his rights to gavel Bracy out for not remaining "germane" to the legislation being discussed under Mason's Manuel of Legislative Procedure.
"There was no incident," Ledbetter said. "You got to stay germane to the bill. He wasn't germane to the bill; it's decorum. We practice decorum, and if you read Mason's rules, our rules, you've got to stay in line, in line with what we're talking about. He was out of line. I mean, we wasn't talking about the voting rights bill; we passed it last week."
He continued, "The conversation we was talking about was trying to benefit veterans and their families in case someone got killed in combat or died; it had nothing to do with voting."
Bracy told 1819 News he thought the initial gaveling was meant to quiet down the floor, a relatively frequent occurrence in the House if conversations grow too loud.
"I had no idea he was gaveling me as being not germane to the bill because I feel like I operate at a high level of decorum," Bracy said.
He continued, "I felt like the issue I was discussing was germane to the bill. I was talking about military families, which is what the bill was about. I was talking about how the Governor said this week that Alabama was the most military-friendly state in the nation. I mentioned about the issue with absentee ballots because I felt like we may have made a mistake and left the military out on accident, which would cause some issues for them."
Ledbetter said his gaveling was unrelated to last week's drama with Givan. However, many in the room believed Ledbetter was attempting to make an example of Bracy since proceedings have seemed to devolve since last week.
"Even if he was trying to deal with it a certain way, I feel like I wasn't the person that should have been made an example of since I stay a lot more germane to issues, I stay a lot more on task, I debate in a lot more respectful manner than a lot of people," Bracy said. "That's why I was more shocked than anything."
He continued, "[Ledbetter] said that wasn't the case. We had a chance to talk about it after, and apparently, it may have been a big misunderstanding on both of our parts. He apologized, and I did as well if he felt like I had done anything wrong. I know he has a responsibility to keep order in the House, but I also have a responsibility to represent the people that sent me to Montgomery. I think we left out with a mutual understanding and respect for each other, and we're just going to move forward."
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