1st elected Black Republic of Alabama: the GOP “open to all”
PELHAM, Alabama (AP) – The first black Republican elected to the Alabama legislature since reconstruction said Wednesday his election to represent a heavily white suburban district shows the GOP “is open to everyone” .
Retired Army Sgt. Kenneth Paschal was elected on Tuesday to take a legislative seat in suburban Shelby County, becoming the only black Republican in the Alabama legislature. Paschal invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. about people judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, as he participated in a swearing-in ceremony to celebrate his victory.
“I truly believe the Lord has called me to serve,” Paschal said Tuesday, adding that “God and the Fatherland” are his two guiding principles.
Standing near a bank of American flags, Paschal took the oath with his hand on a Bible held by his mother. A predominantly white crowd of around 150 cheered and gave a standing ovation when he was introduced as the first black MP elected to the House since Reconstruction.
Mother Betty Paschal of rural Eclectic in central Alabama said she never thought she would see the day her son would be elected to the legislature.
“I’m just amazed,” she said. “I am so proud of Kenneth.”
Paschal, 54, won the special general election to fill the District of House 73. The Shelby County district stretches across the southern suburbs of Birmingham. He won the GOP nomination for the seat earlier this year by a few dozen votes, but easily beat the Democratic nominee in the heavily Republican district.
The special election only had a few thousand votes cast, a fraction of the number that would be cast in a regular election year.
Even though Paschal is the first black Republican elected since Reconstruction, he will not be the first black lawmaker to align with the Republican Party in modern times.
Former Rep. Johnny Ford, longtime mayor of Tuskegee, announced in 2003 he was moving to the GOP, becoming the first black Republican in the Alabama Statehouse since reconstruction. Ford resigned to return to his former office as mayor and then joined the Democratic Party.
Paschal served almost 21 years in the United States Army. He now lives in Shelby County and is a member of the First Baptist Church of Pelham. He worked with the Alabama Family Rights Association, a group that called for changes to child custody laws in an effort to ensure that time and decision-making would be more evenly distributed among parents, provided that both parents are in good shape.
The political parties in the Alabama Legislature are almost entirely divided along racial lines. Paschal will be the only black Republican. The Alabama Senate and House each have a white Democratic member.
The GOP-controlled legislature in 2017 had to redraw the legislative maps by court order to correct racial gerrymandering in 12 districts. The move came after black lawmakers filed a lawsuit challenging the cards as “stacking and packing” black voters in designated districts to make neighboring districts whiter and more likely to elect conservative Republicans.
Paschal told The Associated Press on Tuesday that after leaving the military he reflected on his political place and said it was with the Republican Party because he was conservative.
During the election campaign, he said some people mistakenly assumed he was a Democrat.
“We put people in the box based on your skin color. … Hopefully we can change that, ”he said.