First Black Republican since Reconstruction to join Alabama House of Representatives
Last week, the state of Alabama broke a record that had stood for over 140 years. Since the 1870's, there has not been a Black Republican elected to represent any of the state's 135 House Districts or 35 Senate districts, until now.
Enter Kenneth Paschal, who, at 54, will be representing State House District 73, a predominantly white enclave that includes portions of Alabaster, Brantleyville, Calera, Chelsea, Helena, Montevallo, and Pelham.
Although Paschal has never held political office, he handily beat the Democratic challenger, Sheridan Black, in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo. During the primary race, Paschal's win was much more narrow; he barely defeated his opponent, winning by less than 100 votes.
Before he became Alabama's newest elected official, Paschal was a military man. For 21 years, he served in the U.S. Army and retired at the rank of sergeant. In an interview with the Associated Press, Paschal shared that his retirement from the Army forced him to reckon with his personal politics and ultimately led him to join the Republican party on account of his conservative worldview.
Although Paschal's election marks a politically significant moment in Alabama history, he is not the first Black lawmaker to align with the GOP in the state. Nearly 20 years ago, Rep. Johnny Ford, a stalwart in Tuskegee politics, switched parties and joined forces with Republicans in the Alabama State House, making him the first Black Republican in state politics since the late 1800s. He later resigned and returned to Tuskegee's City Hall to resume his role as the city's mayor as a registered Democrat.
Paschal's election has excited many within the GOP across Alabama. The political parties in the Alabama Legislature are almost entirely divided along racial lines. The Alabama Senate and House each have one white Democratic member. Shortly after Paschal's win, Alabama's Republican Party Chairman, John Wahl released a statement praising both Paschal and the voters of of District 73 for ushering in a new era for the GOP.
“The Alabama Republican Party is incredibly enthusiastic about the election of Kenneth Paschal to House District 73. Representative-elect Paschal—the first African-American Republican elected to the Legislature since Reconstruction—is a man of exceptional character whose ‘God and Country’ campaign resonated with Shelby County residents,” Wahl said in a statement. “After serving honorably for over two decades in the U.S. Army, he came home to Alabama, where he has spent the last 10 years volunteering for pro-family causes. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Representative-elect Paschal during this campaign and am honored to call him a friend. I look forward to working with him on the issues that matter most to Alabama voters.”
Against the backdrop of American flags and cheered on by a crowd of 150 constituents, Paschal recited his oath of service. His mother stood by his side, holding a ceremonial Bible used to swear-in elected officials. When he was introduced as the first Black Republican elected to the Alabama House since Reconstruction, the audience erupted into applause, showering Paschal and his mother—two of the few persons of color in the room—with a standing ovation.
“I want to thank the voters of Shelby County for the trust they placed in me today,” Paschal said. “I had never run for office before, but I feel like our campaign was really embraced by the people. I think they were looking for an outsider. As I’ve said all along, we have too many politicians that can’t seem to get things done or stand up for what they believe. I’m running for God and country. I think that really resonated with folks,” said Paschal after his win.
“The voters of District 73 didn’t choose me because of the color of my skin. They got to know me. They saw a God-fearing man of integrity who values and defends our Constitution. But I do recognize the historical significance of what happened today. I hope to be an example to all Alabamians that the Republican Party is open to everyone who shares a belief in freedom, self-reliance, fiscal responsibility, and opportunity for all.”
Paschal's current term will be incredibly short as he will be up for re-election in less than a year. The Republican primary for his seat will take place on May 24, 2022.