Gov. Scott silent on what should happen with Confederate monument at Florida Capitol

Florida Gov. Rick Scott during a recent stop in Sarasota County.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott during a recent stop in Sarasota County. ttompkins@bradenton.com

Florida’s Republican governor won’t take a position on what should be done with a monument that honors slain Confederate soldiers on the state Capitol grounds, even as a growing number of elected leaders around the country take steps to remove such monuments after last weekend’s violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Rather than lead on the issue, Rick Scott is deferring to state lawmakers and has remained silent on whether such monuments in Florida — and particularly the one at the Capitol — should be taken down.

capitol confederate monument
A monument honoring slain Confederate soldiers stands on the grounds of the state Capitol Complex in Tallahassee. Some politicians want the monument removed in the wake of the violent white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 11-12. Kristen M. Clark kclark@miamiherald.com

After Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for governor, on Wednesday called on Scott to remove the Capitol monument, Scott’s office would only acknowledge they had “received” that request.

His office on Thursday pointed to general remarks Scott had made two days earlier about how federal, state and local officials ought to “review” what should be done with Confederate monuments. “We need to go through a process where everyone comes together and has a legitimate conversation, then we go forward,” Scott had said.

But Scott, through his spokesmen, has repeatedly declined to answer questions from the Herald/Times this week — including again on Friday — about what direction he wants elected officials in Florida to take: Whether monuments celebrating the Confederacy, such as the one at the Capitol, should be removed or kept, and why.

“We’ll leave decisions about the Historic Capitol Museum up to the Legislature,” spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said Friday.

Scott lacks the authority to unilaterally remove the monument, as some elected leaders nationwide have been able to do this week. As a “permanent exhibit of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum,” the monument’s location is under the control of the Legislature, said Maggie Mickler, spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, which oversees the Capitol grounds.

However, nothing prevents Scott from using his bully pulpit to recommend what action, if any, lawmakers should take.

Meanwhile, other elected officials and community leaders around the country are taking firm stances; many calling for Confederate symbols to be removed from public lands.

A monument to someone who raped, killed [and] lynched black people is not something that should be hung as a trophy of somebody who did good.

Broward County Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones

For instance, Baltimore officials moved quickly and quietly to remove Confederate monuments in the city overnight Tuesday. In Virginia, the Associated Press reported on Friday that Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer had asked Gov. Terry McAuliffe to convene an emergency meeting of state lawmakers to allow the city to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

Protesters celebrate after pulling down a Confederate statue in Durham, N.C. Monday, Aug. 14, 2017. Gov. Roy Cooper criticized the action, tweeting that “the racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way t

The potential removal of that statue is what sparked the “Unite the Right” rallies on Aug. 11-12, which ultimately resulted in violent clashes between neo-Nazis and white supremacists and those who protested against them. One woman was killed on Saturday when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman removed a plaque honoring the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Highway on Tuesday, and when the Hillsborough County Commission backtracked Wednesday from relocating a Confederate monument by mandating half of the cost be covered by private funds, local business and community leaders stepped up within a day to provide the dollars.

Jones Shevrin
Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park Florida House

Broward County Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones, of West Park, announced Friday that he plans to file legislation for the 2018 session calling for the immediate removal of “all Confederate statues, signs and names from public property in Florida.”

The legislation may face long odds, though, because House Speaker Richard Corcoran already shrugged off the simmering conflict. “The evil that exists in people’s hearts existed before a statue, after a statue, during a statue. … What was more important, the Civil Rights Act of the ’60s or removing some sort of statue or something?” Corcoran had said.

Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, did not respond to a request for comment Friday on whether he would support Jones’ effort.

Jones, who is black, praised both Corcoran and Scott for their comments condemning neo-Nazis after Charlottesville, and when it comes to debates over the Confederate monuments, Jones urged Corcoran to let House members have the debate.

“When we get to session, I want to sit down and speak to him about it,” Jones said. “Although they’re just statues, what they represent for some of us is not just a statue. As we become more educated in who these people were and are — the Robert E. Lees of the world — it’s very important that we look at it from, as a black man, how we see this and how we see those individuals.”

“I understand these things are history, so my idea is not to destroy them,” Jones added. “Everything that has happened has created our history of who we are, but we don’t have to be constantly reminded of them when we go to a city hall or a state Capitol. … A monument to someone who raped, killed [and] lynched black people is not something that should be hung as a trophy of somebody who did good.”

We’ll leave decisions about the Historic Capitol Museum up to the Legislature.

Lauren Schenone, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott

The monument at the state Capitol does not explicitly reference the Confederacy. The “Civil War marble obelisk” — as it’s called by the state Department of Management Services — was erected by an unknown group of women in 1882, although efforts to construct such a monument began as early as 1866, one year after the Civil War ended.

The obelisk bears a placard that declares its purpose is “to rescue from oblivion and perpetuate in the memory of succeeding generations the heroic patriotism of the men of Leon County who perished in the Civil War.” Florida fought on the side of the Confederacy after state leaders voted to secede from the Union in January 1861.

When asked about the absence of a position from Scott, Jones said he doesn’t want “a battle of the statues.”

“But I want us to, as a nation and as a state, to recognize what these statues stood for,” Jones said.

“Even Gov. Scott’s comments this week [condemning the rallies in Charlottesville] were spot on. My Republican colleagues this week impressed me with their comments; I commend them,” he said. “Gov. Scott, he should look at it from our point of view and not just as an African American, but look at everybody else who is against what these statues and signs are saying. We know these things to be symbols of a time where our country was divided.”

Jones recently has also advocated for the renaming of streets in a black neighborhood of Hollywood that bear the names of Confederate soldiers. City commissioners preliminarily agreed to do so in early July, with final approval expected Aug. 30.

Hollywood residents react to the city possibly changing its street signs named after Confederate generals.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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