As monuments celebrating the Confederacy face renewed scrutiny nationwide in the wake of a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz wants Florida lawmakers to meet in special session this fall to replace the statue of a Confederate general that still represents the Sunshine State in the U.S. Capitol.
State lawmakers already voted 18 months ago to remove the statue of Edmund Kirby Smith from the National Statuary Hall after lengthy and contentious debates in Tallahassee.
But Smith’s statue remains in the U.S. Capitol because state lawmakers failed during the 2017 session to agree on whom to replace him with when one committee chairman blocked a proposal.
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In the wake of Charlottesville, Wasserman Schultz on Tuesday called on Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature to “take immediate action by calling a one-day special session” during fall committee weeks to expedite the second attempt to replace Smith.
“It’s time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County Democrat, said in a statement. “No family visiting our nation’s Capitol should have to explain to their child that the statue representing our state honors someone who fought for a philosophy built on hatred and oppression.”
“We must denounce white supremacy and domestic terrorism and stand up for love and compassion — not just with our words, but with our deeds,” she added.
The removal of the Confederate statue must be made an urgent priority.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County Democrat
When asked whether the governor would support Wasserman Schultz’s idea, Scott spokesman John Tupps referred to the Legislature-approved process for selecting Smith’s replacement, which Scott signed into law in 2016.
Last summer, an independent panel voted to replace Smith’s statue with one of among three people: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a champion for the Everglades; Mary McLeod Bethune, a Florida educator and civil rights pioneer; and George Jenkins, the founder of Publix supermarkets.
Lawmakers have the final say, and they sought this spring to move forward with a statue of Douglas, but a key House committee chairman blocked the bill. The Associated Press reported that Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, preferred to have Walt Disney in the National Statuary Hall instead — even though Disney wasn’t among the finalists the independent panel recommended.
“The Legislature meets in January, where they can take up this issue, and Governor Scott has no plans to call a special session,” Tupps said Tuesday in an email to the Herald/Times.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, together have the power to convene a special session.
But Corcoran also ruled out the possibility. He accused Wasserman Schultz of “grandstanding” and being “out of touch.”
“We’ve already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor,” Corcoran said in a statement via Twitter.
Negron did not respond to a request for comment.
Wasserman Schultz said Douglas, Bethune and Jenkins “represent the best of the history of our state. The removal of the Confederate statue must be made an urgent priority.”
Florida lawmakers return to Tallahassee in mid-September for a series of committee weeks in advance of the 2018 session, which begins in January. No legislation has yet been offered in regards to replacing the U.S. Capitol statue, but bills are only just starting to be filed for the next session.
Every state gets to have two statues in the U.S. Capitol to showcase prominent citizens. Florida’s second citizen in the hall is John Gorrie of Apalachicola, who is credited with inventing air conditioning.