MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Session-long tensions in the Alabama Senate boiled over Thursday as Republican Sen. Charles Bishop of Jasper punched Democratic Sen. Lowell Barron of Fyffe in the head before the two were pulled apart.
The 69-year-old Bishop said he punched Barron, 65, in the head after the senator called him a "son of a bitch."
"I responded to his comment with my right hand," Bishop said.
• Photo Essay: Click here to see the punch in action.
• Video: Watch the fight here.
Barron denied saying that to Bishop. He said the Jasper senator used an expletive to him and he was trying to get away when he was hit by Bishop on the side of the head near an ear.
The Senate later considered censuring Bishop and expelling him from the chamber for the remainder of the day, but Bishop said that wasn't necessary and walked out of the Statehouse, saying he was going home to Walker County.
"I love every one of you. Most of all I love this chamber. I'm going home and you all have a good day," Bishop said in an emotional speech before his departure.
Bishop, a coal mining executive from Walker County who once challenged another senator to a fistfight, said he regretted the incident because "that's not the way grown men solve their problems," but he said he would not immediately apologize to Barron.
Bishop said he responded to Barron's comment in the way he learned as a child in Moro Bottom, Ark.
"I was raised in the woods of Arkansas and people don't say that about your mom," Bishop said.
Barron gave a different version of what led to the incident. He said Bishop approached while he was sitting in his chair in the Senate chamber.
"He said 'you better watch your back,"' and used a foul expression, Barron said. "I said I don't give a damn what you do."
Barron said he then started to get up and Bishop hit him. Barron said he has not decided if he will file charges against Bishop.
"I would like to finish today in a productive manner. I will evaluate the situation tomorrow on what I may do," Barron said.
Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, and Sen. Parker Griffith, D-Huntsville, both said they were near the two senators and did not hear Barron call Bishop a name.
The fight came on the final day of the 2007 regular session of the Legislature as Republican senators were using delaying tactics to force Democratic leadership to bring up an election reform bill to ban PAC to PAC transfers. Barron is chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, which sets the chamber's work agenda, and Republicans were angry that he had not put the election reform bill in a position to come up for debate.
The Senate had just recessed Thursday afternoon when Bishop approached the chair where Barron was sitting. Moments later security officers rushed to separate the two senators.
Alabama Public Television tapes showed Bishop taking a swing at Barron.
When the Senate came back into session, Sen. Bobby Denton, D-Muscle Shoals, moved that Bishop be barred from the Senate chamber and the 7th floor of the Statehouse for the remainder of the day. Action on that motion was delayed after Bishop walked out of the Senate.
Several Democratic senators urged senators to take disciplinary action against Bishop.
"I've been down here 23 years. There have been many heated moments. I don't know of another moment where a senator has hit another senator upside the head," Sen. Hank Sanders. D-Selma, said.
But some Republicans said the whole Senate is to blame because of the tensions brewing all session and asked that Bishop not be punished severely.
"There has been back stabbing, abusive language on both sides. I think if we are going to use Senator Bishop as an example, we need to say what changes we are each going to make in our personal behavior," said Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo.
Barron did not appear to be injured, but Sen. Vivian Figures, D-Mobile, was seen shortly after the fight going into a meeting with Barron carrying first aid supplies.
"It's indicative of how much tension is in the Senate right now," said Sen. Larry Dixon, R-Montgomery.
Members of the Alabama House said the incident makes the entire Legislature look bad.
"It's certainly a black eye on the Legislature and the Senate in particular," said Rep. Jay Love, R-Montgomery.