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Alabama GOP calls on Rep. Givan to apologize for ‘racial attack’ against fellow legislator

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl released a statement Thursday condemning comments made by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham directed at Rep. Kenneth Paschal, R-Pelham, in which she recited and paraphrased song lyrics containing a racial slur.

Paschal is the only Black Republican in the Alabama House.

“There is no place for bigotry or racial slurs in any part of our local, state, or federal government,” Wahl said. “Kenneth Paschal is a father, son, friend, loved one, veteran, man of faith, and duly elected representative and does not deserve to be racially attached on the house floor.”

Givan on Thursday said she’s the one owed an apology.

During an Alabama House session on Tuesday, a bill sponsored by Pachall regarding parental rights was being discussed on the House floor. A number of Democratic House members spoke out against the bill and a vote on it was delayed until a future date.

Among those who spoke on the bill was Givan, who was critical of Pachal for his apparent support of House Bill 209, which would make it a felony for voters to request or deliver an absentee ballot or application on behalf of another person, with few exceptions.

Rep. Kenneth Paschal during a Alabama House session on May 2.

“You talked about a fundamental right, but as I’ve heard from several of my colleagues, it is amazing that we’re here on this bill to speak about the fundamental right that you say a parent has,” Givan said. 

“I’m still trying to figure out how we’re here to this legislation, but yet you deprive individuals that look like you time and time again of a fundamental right to vote every single time. I’ve got a problem with that.”

Givan then began to recite the lyrics of the Jay-Z song “The Story of O.J.” to Paschal in an apparent nod to the song’s message.

Released in 2018, the song is a nod to an alleged statement made by O.J. Simpson: “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” The theme of the song has been described as arguing that skin color trumps every other factor, such as wealth or social status, in how people are viewed.

“When Jay-Z penned that song, he penned that song for a time such as this,” Givan said. “Do you want me to sing it?”

The song has frequent uses of the n-word, with a portion of the chorus reading “rich n****, poor n****, house n****, field n****, still n****, still n****.” 

Givan recited the song’s chorus toward Paschal, only replacing the racial slur with the word “one.”

“When you go to bed, you still one, when you look in the mirror at yourself, you still one,” Givan said. “That’s the story of O.J.; light skinned, dark skinned, you still one. You always going to be one when you walk up in here and every day you wake up, don’t you ever forget that.”

Alabama Daily News has inquired with the Speaker’s office if Givan could have been in violation of House rules. During the exchange, Speaker Pro Tem Chris Pringle was presiding as House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter was traveling out of state.

House rules say “members shall act with decorum at all times on the House floor and in committee meetings. Every member shall observe decency of speech; never use language or engage in activity that is profane, obscene, tasteless, vulgar, morally crude, or meant to harass; and confine remarks to the question under consideration. Members may not make statements that reflect upon the character or conduct of any person.”

In the statement, Wahl went on to further condemn Givan for her comments, and called on her to apologize to Paschal.

“The people of Alabama expect their elected officials to behave in a manner becoming of that high privilege,” Wahl said. 

“Rep. Paschal was vulgarly referred to as a term that is beneath the dignity and respect of any human being. We cannot stand by and allow this honorable gentleman who served in uniform and continues to serve as a public servant with duty and commitment to be treated and referenced so vilely in violation of House Chamber decorum.”

Paschal responded to Givan’s comments in a statement released Thursday evening, tying Givan’s conduct to “the Democrats’ nationwide pattern of disrupting the decorum of legislative proceedings.”

“A member of the House Democrat Caucus repeatedly inferred she was calling me a racial epithet simply because I am a black Republican and a proud, flag-waving conservative,” Paschal said.

“I will never be bullied or insulted into apologizing for what I am – a god-fearing conservative and military veteran who believes in the U.S. Constitution and the right of every person to live their lives free from government overreach. No person should have their race or skin color questioned or attacked simply because they choose to think for themselves, and if a Republican made the same statements, the condemnation would have been swift and permanent.”

Givan released a statement of her own Thursday evening, saying that she remained “unapologetic for exercising my right to free speech.”

“I made reference to a rap song by a black rapper which I have mentioned several times previously on the House floor without any prior objection, because it was germane to the discussion of the bill; this is because the discussion dealt with our fundamental rights, such as the fact that all people are created equal and endowed with the same rights by their creator,” Givan said.

“All deserve equal protection under the law, especially including the sacred right to vote in our democracy. Republicans are the ones who owe me and the people of Alabama an apology for trying to silence me and those who strongly disagree with their misguided agenda that hurts people of color, women, and other minority and marginalized groups.”

This is not the first time Givan has been involved in controversy on the House floor. In 2019, she apologized to then-Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, when she said to her Republican colleagues “I refuse to stay on the plantation” during a heated debate.

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