A Democratic lawmaker’s suggestion that she may introduce legislation to remove a Confederate memorial on Florida’s Capitol grounds is getting strong push back from a Florida organization devoted to preserving Southern heritage.
Democratic state Rep. Geraldine Thompson’s spokesperson said this week that the Orlando lawmaker will work to relocate the Confederate soldier monument that was placed on the Capitol grounds in 1882. She says that a plaque explaining the context of Florida’s involvement in the Civil War should take the monument’s place.
Save Southern Heritage, a group formed in 2015 to support Confederate monuments in the Southeast, opposes the move.
“Ms. Thompson is out of step with the majority of Floridians who overwhelmingly oppose removal of veterans memorials, even ones related to the Confederacy,” said David McCallister, a spokesman for the group.
McCallister is basing his opinion upon a 2017 Gravis Marketing “robocall” poll paid for by Save Southern Heritage. The survey showed that 77 percent of Floridians support maintaining Confederate monuments where they currently exist.
Tallahassee state Rep. Loranne Ausley is also asking that the monument be relocated, calling it a “painful reminder of an ugly and hurtful history,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper.
“It should be removed,” Ausley told the newspaper. “I look forward to working with Rep. Thompson to get this resolved once and for all.”
This is not the first time that Thompson has raised the issue of removing Confederate monuments. While serving in the state Senate four years ago, Thompson filed legislation that would ban the display of Confederate flags on state and local government property in Florida.
“Public buildings are supported by taxpayers, and taxpayers come from all walks of life,” Thompson said in 2015. “They have different beliefs, different experiences, and when you display something on a public building that is offensive to a significant portion of the population, that becomes problematic.”
In its statement, Save Southern Heritage derides Thompson and also takes a swipe at former Tallahassee mayor and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, who has previously called for removing the Confederate monument.
The Florida Legislature passed a 2014 law requiring that the Legislature to approve any future monuments built on the Capitol grounds, but it didn’t apply to monuments built before then.
In 2016, the Legislature voted to authorize the search for a prominent Floridian to replace a statue of Edmund Kirby Smith, a Confederate general whose statue was at the U.S. Capitol, representing Florida. A citizens’ panel chose educator Mary McLeod Bethune, the first African-American represented in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. The Legislature then voted in 2018 to formally request that change, and Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a letter to notify authorities in Washington about the change.
Pensacola Republican state Rep. Mike Hill introduced legislation in the 2019 lawmaking session that would have banned the removal of monuments on public property. It also would have made defacing such monuments a third-degree felony, but it didn’t pass the Legislature.