Republican Tommy Benton came under fire back in 2016 when he called the Ku Klux Klan a force for “law and order.” Now, in a move that has become emblematic of America’s evolution, the Republican state lawmaker with the seemingly racist philosophy has been appointed to a Georgia House committee.
When Benton sat down with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution three years ago, he noted during the interview that the KKK is “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.”
“A great majority of prominent men in the South were members of the Klan,” he continued. “Should that affect their reputation to the extent that everything else good that they did was forgotten?”
His comments drew national condemnation, but many of his colleagues believe enough time has passed for folks to forgive and forget.
On Friday, House Speaker David Ralston appointed Benton to the House Retirement Committee, which oversees retirement funds for teachers and state employees, Newsweek reports.
“The speaker’s philosophy is that people deserve a second chance and that’s what he has given Chairman Benton,” House spokesman Kaleb McMichen told the Journal.
Benton’s appointment comes as Americans kick off the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Ironically, he previously opposed the erection of a MLK statue on the grounds of the State Capitol.
According to reports, Ralston stripped Benton of his chairmanship of the Human Relations and Aging Committee in June 2017 after he distributed an article to his colleagues titled “The Absurdity of Slavery as the Cause of the War Between the States.”
Ralston also curbed Benton shortly after naming him to a civics education study committee. Now, many find it distressing that he has returned the lawmaker to a leadership role.
“It’s a shame that we reward that type of mentality in today’s society, especially at the state level,” said Charles Steele, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “We have a problem with that and we are going to deal with it.”
Benton has previously defended the Confederacy and in 2017, he proposed that the month of April should be declared “Confederate History Month.”
“We just elected a president that said he was tired of political correctness. And so that was the reason that we were looking to introduce the resolution,” he told local NPR affiliate WABE. “We think that our heritage is just as important as everybody else’s.”