Virginia Democrats at odds over terms of Confederate statue removals

Virginia Democrats at odds over terms of Confederate statue removals
Someone splashed red paint on the base of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Richmond's Monument Avenue. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury Aug. 4, 2018)

A handful of Democrats in the Virginia Senate are pushing for some ground rules as the party moves to grant local governments around the state the authority to remove Confederate statues on public property.

Both the House and the Senate voted this week to restore local control over war memorials, but the Senate’s version of the legislation proposes a variety of requirements localities must first meet before removing any statues, including a mandatory historical study and public hearings over the course of more than 100 days, a super-majority vote by the local governing board and an optional referendum.

House lawmakers called the new rules unnecessary.

“Without state law, communities are already taking this decision very seriously,” said Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, where the city voted back in 2017 to remove a downtown statue of Confederate Gen. Robert Lee on the recommendation of a commission that spent six months studying the issue.

She said it was important that the city not be forced to repeat the process. “The whole point of the bill is that we can trust communities to take ownership over their history.”

Lawmakers representing Norfolk and Richmond, two other localities that have discussed removing statues, concurred.

“I’m not a fan of what they put in that bill,” said Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk.

The Senate language was included at the request of three lawmakers: Sens. Scott Surovell (Fairfax), Chap Petersen (Fairfax City) and Lynwood Lewis (Accomack).

“Before we make decisions about them, everybody’s entitled to have complete information,” said Surovell, who said he believed monuments should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. “Otherwise, I think a lot of people just jump to conclusions, make assumptions that everybody just put these statues up because they were racist or something.”

The study would be undertaken by the Department of Historic Resources at the cost of the locality.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.