BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The Alabama Republican Party warned voters away from one of its candidates for a utility-regulating agency Wednesday in a statement that cited his "egregious" comments on social media and radio.
State GOP chair Terry Lathan said the party's candidate committee had voted unanimously to censure Public Service Commission candidate Jim Bonner, who has twice served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention and bills himself as an ardent supporter of President Donald Trump.
Bonner, 65, is a former community college teacher from Phil Campbell whose Facebook page includes posts that could be offensive to women, blacks and Muslims.
Lathan said Bonner's comments "are not condoned by the Alabama Republican Party," and the party is asking people not to vote for him.
"Mr. Bonner is welcome to his opinions and his first amendment right of free speech. The Alabama Republican Party is welcome to our opinion as well, and we reject the egregious comments Mr. Bonner continues to spew," said the statement by Lathan.
Bonner, who is trying to unseat Public Service Commission member Jeremy Oden in Tuesday's primary, said he is drawing opposition within his own party for suggesting that the commission increase regulation on the politically powerful Alabama Power Co.
"I'm a good old boy. I'm Mayberry RFD. I'm Andy Griffith. Well, maybe Andy Griffith with a foul mouth," Bonner said in a telephone interview.
Bonner, who previously ran for the state school board, denied making any comments that are purposefully hurtful; critics are judging him on snippets of comments or social media posts taken out of context, he said.
In one recent post, Bonner shared a photo of an orangutan wearing leaves like a hat with the comment, "Getting ready for the royal wedding." Critics took the post as an offensive comment aimed at the mixed-race background of Meghan Markle, but Bonner denied any such intention.
"People jump up and say racist and sexist and misogynistic, or whatever that word is, and it's not," Bonner said in a telephone interview.
While Bonner said he has raised only $1,000 and campaigns mainly by free social media and radio appearances, the Montgomery-based political consulting firm Cyngal said a recent survey showed Bonner in a tight race with the incumbent Oden among decided voters, although nearly 70 percent of voters are undecided.
Brent Buchanan, president of Cyngal, said Bonner might be benefiting from his last name. Jo Bonner used to represent southwest Alabama in Congress, and his sister Judy Bonner is the retired president of the University of Alabama.
"It appears from the data that this PSC race is within the margin of error strictly because of name confusion," Buchanan said in a statement.