As Confederate heroes — and the statutes honoring them — continue to collide with the realities of racism, white supremacy, and hate, most recently in violent clashes in Charlottesville, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is striking while the iron is hot.
The Broward Democrat is pressuring Florida lawmakers to settle an issue they neglected during their most recent session: choosing whose statue should replace that of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who currently represents Florida in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Every state gets to have two statues to showcase prominent citizens. Florida’s second is John Gorrie, of Apalachicola, who is credited with inventing air conditioning. Now that’s a hero.
Wasserman Schultz wants state lawmakers to meet in a special session in the fall, when they are already in Tallahassee, to vote on who should replace Smith — already deemed unsuitable.
Over a year ago, Florida lawmakers did well to vote to remove Smith’s statue after lengthy and contentious debates.
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But Smith’s statue remains in Washington because this year state lawmakers failed to agree on who to replace Smith after the process went akilter. Time to get it all back on track, as Wassserman Schultz suggests, and make a decision.
An independent panel had voted to replace Smith’s statue with one of these three contenders: Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a champion for the Florida Everglades; Mary McLeod Bethune, an African-American educator and civil-rights pioneer; and George Jenkins, the founder of Publix.
Now, in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville where neo-Nazis and white supremacists spawned clashes with opponents, Wasserman Schultz is right to seek resolve this issue and show the nation that Florida is proud to stand against those on the wrong side of history. Tuesday, she 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 replacing Smith’s statue.
“It’s time to stop playing games,” Wasserman Schultz 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” — specifically, slavery. She’s right.
Here’s what went wrong , though, withthe selection process: Lawmakers sought to move forward on this prickly issue in the spring, but a key House committee chairman blocked the bill. Florida Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, preferred to have Walt Disney in the National Statuary Hall — even though Disney wasn’t among the finalists. The issue died.
The governor’s office indicated no special session will be called. Why not? He’s already signed the bill to remove Smith’s statue. Lawmakers will be in Tallahassee, so there’s little, if any, expense to taxpayers. They will be in the state capital in mid-September for a series of committee meetings in advance of the 2018 session, which begins in January.
Smith represents a racist, un-American aspect of history. Lawmakers have three luminaries from which to choose. Each — Douglas, Cookman, and Jenkins — has made enduring contributions to Floridians’ quality of life and is more deserving. Make Florida look progressive, governor. Call a brief special session to get it over and done with.
Who’s statue should replace that of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith? Send your pick to HeraldEd@MiamiHerald.com.