GARDENDALE, Ala. (AP) — A powerful Republican leader in the Alabama Senate apologized Tuesday for referring to blacks as "aborigines" on recordings played during a federal gambling corruption trial.
Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale said his comments "were careless and unnecessary" and he wants to set things right. Democrats said he ought to step down as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, even though the Republican Caucus has said he would remain.
Beason was recorded making the remarks about gamblers in predominantly black Greene County. He made the recordings while helping the FBI investigate claims of lawmakers being bribed by gambling interests to pass a bill legalizing video poker games.
In one transcript, Beason and two other Republican legislators were talking about economic development in Greene County and the customers at one of its largest employers, Greenetrack casino in Eutaw.
"That's y'all's Indians," one Republican said.
"They're aborigines, but they're not Indians," Beason replied.
Reading a statement at the Gardendale Civic Center, Beason said, "Our purpose today is to say that I am very sorry and I apologize to anyone whose feelings were hurt by my comment." The Senate Republican Caucus days earlier let Beason remain the head of the rules committee, which decides which bills the Senate will consider.
State Democratic chairman Mark Kennedy said Beason's remarks were part of an embarrassing record that includes sponsoring Alabama's tough new law cracking down on illegal immigration. Kennedy also pointed to Beason saying during a GOP meeting that the party should "empty the clip" and do what it takes to control illegal immigration.
"The Republicans have a supermajority," Kennedy said. "And this is the man they choose to lead one of the most powerful committees in the Legislature."
Beason said Republican Caucus members had asked him how he planned to deal with his remarks, and the statement was his answer.
Earlier this year, Beason was the first prosecution witness in the federal trial of nine people accused of buying and selling votes for pro-gambling legislation. The jury acquitted two defendants and couldn't resolve all the charges against the other seven. They face a retrial in January.
During the investigation, Beason wore FBI recording equipment that captured him making the racially charged comment.
Defense attorneys latched on to his remarks during the trial, and, outside court, Kennedy called on Beason to resign. Republicans largely defended Beason, insisting he was not a racist.
Democratic legislators including Sen. Vivian Figures, who is black, criticized Republicans for allowing Beason to retain his Senate leadership role.
"Racism should have no place in the Alabama Senate. It is in the best interest of all Alabamians that he resign immediately," said Figures.
Beason said Tuesday he had not discussed his remarks with any minority members of the Legislature but would be happy to if they wanted to talk. He said he believes he can be an effective and important part of the Senate leadership in the three years remaining in his term.
A federal judge said she would rule by Wednesday whether the immigration law is constitutional.
AP writer Phillip Rawls in Montgomery contributed to this report.