MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Retired Army Sgt. Kenneth Paschal on Tuesday was elected to fill a legislative seat in suburban Shelby County, becoming the only Black Republican in the Alabama Legislature.
Paschal, 54, won the general election to fill House District 73 which was vacated when Matt Fridy joined the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. He defeated Democratic candidate Sheridan Black. Paschal took about 75% of the 2,700 votes cast, according to unofficial returns posted Tuesday night by the Alabama secretary of state's office.
He will represent the Shelby County district in the heavily Republican suburbs south of Birmingham.
"I want to thank the voters of Shelby County for the trust they placed in me today. 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," Paschal said in a statement.
He narrowly won the GOP nomination for the seat earlier this year.
Paschal is the first Black Republican elected since Reconstruction. However, he will not be the first Black lawmaker to align with the Republican Party in modern times.
Former Rep. Johnny Ford, the longtime mayor of Tuskegee, in 2003 announced he was switching to the GOP, becoming the first Black Republican in the Alabama Statehouse since Reconstruction. Ford resigned to return to his old office of mayor and later rejoined the Democratic Party.
Paschal served nearly 21 year in the U.S. Army. He now lives in Shelby County and is a member of the First Baptist Church of Pelham. He has worked with the Alabama Family Rights Association, a group that has urged changes to child custody laws in an effort to ensure time and decision-making would be split more evenly among parents, provided both parents are fit.
Paschal told The Associated Press Tuesday that after leaving the military, he thought about where he fit politically and said that is with the Republican Party because he is conservative.
On the campaign trail, he said some people presumed he was a Democrat. "We have put people in the box based on your skin color... Hopefully, we can change that," he said.
"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," Paschal said in a statement.
The political parties in the Alabama Legislature are almost entirely divided along racial lines. Paschal will be the only Black Republican. The Alabama Senate and House each have one white Democratic member.
State Rep. April Weaver was also elected Tuesday night to vacant seat in the Alabama Senate. Weaver fills the seat vacated by Cam Ward who is now the director of the Alabama Bureau of Pardons and Paroles. The district stretches through Shelby, Bibb and Chilton counties.