In Florida, who’s in charge of this Confederate monument?
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Who’s responsible for the 135-year-old Confederate monument in front of Florida’s Old Capitol? It depends on who you ask.
Amid a national debate over Confederate statues and memorials, state officials are in a disagreement over who is charge of the memorial to local Confederate soldiers that was placed on the Capitol grounds in 1882.
In the aftermath of events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Democrats in Florida, including the black mayor of Tallahassee, have called for the removal of Confederate monuments, including the one in downtown Tallahassee. The monument says at its base that it was built to commemorate the “heroic patriotism of the men of Leon County who perished in the Civil War.”
But when asked about the memorial, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has sidestepped questions about whether it should stay or go. He said this week that it’s up to the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature to decide whether or not to remove the monument. The Scott administration maintains that the monument is an exhibit attached to a museum inside the Old Capitol run by the Legislature.
“We have done the research,” Scott told reporters. “That decision goes through the legislative process.”
Legislators in 2014 passed a law that said any future monuments built on the Capitol grounds need legislative approval. But that bill specifically stated that it does not apply to monuments built before then.
The Legislature does control the Old Capitol and the legislative museum inside of it. A website describing the museum includes mention of the monument.
But Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Joe Negron, said Wednesday that the monument is not the responsibility of the Legislature.
“The historic Capitol is not in possession of any ownership papers regarding the memorial, nor is it part of any exhibit that they own or maintain,” Betta said in an email.
The Confederate monument in Tallahassee came under scrutiny in the wake of an August rally by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville that was ostensibly to protest a proposal to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. A woman who was part of a counter-protest was killed when a car slammed into a crowd. Two state troopers also died in a helicopter crash.
The Florida Legislature in 2016 voted to replace a statute of a Confederate general that is one of two Florida statutes inside the U.S. Capitol. But an effort to name a successor to Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith got bogged down during this year’s session amid disagreements over who should replace Smith.
Smith moved away from Florida when he was 12 and became famous largely as the last Confederate officer to surrender a significant force at the end of the Civil War, nearly two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee gave in to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia and formally ended the war on April 9, 1865.