Tennessee Republicans Pass Bill That Could Prevent Removal Of KKK Founder’s Bust
According to the Tennessean, the Tennessee General Assembly will take up legislation that would change the makeup of the State Capitol Commission and potentially “block the removal of a controversial Confederate monument located outside the House and Senate chambers.”
- On Monday, the Senate passed the legislation on the floor, “which was approved after an amendment was added by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), though the change was never discussed in or filed in a committee,” reported the Tennessean.
- Senate Bill 1694 merely extended the life of the Capitol Commission, which was set to expire this year. Robert’s amendment adds the House and Senate chief clerks to the commission.
- The amended bill would “tip the scales in favor of the legislature, where members of both Republican-controlled chambers have expressed opposition to removing the bust,” the Tennessean reported.
- The commission, “which would vote to decide about the removal of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, has no upcoming meetings scheduled,” the report continued.
- Nathan Bedford Forrest was “a slave trader and widely understood to have been an early leader in the Ku Klux Klan. During the Civil War, he led Confederates in the battle of Fort Pillow in West Tennessee, in which hundreds of surrendered Union soldiers, most of whom were black, were killed,” the Tennessean wrote in another article.
- The bust was “first put on display in the Tennessee state Capitol in 1978.”
- “Who are we afraid of offending by removing the bust of a KKK grand wizard?” asked Chris Williamson, a pastor who attended the commission’s last meeting and presented the members with a petition signed by people in favor of removal. Forrest is “wearing the vestiges of the Confederate Army. That’s why he is placed there.”
“This has been a commission that is not without some degree of controversy,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) during the Senate’s Monday session. “I think changing the voting membership of it on the fly on the floor strikes me as problematic...That is a pretty significant change that I believe should be something that is heard by one or both of the committees to whom this legislation was assigned.”
Many Tennessee lawmakers expressed opposition to the bust’s removal.
- Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) who sits on the commission as a legislative appointee, spoke in favor of the amendment, calling it "altogether appropriate" that the legislature expand its influence on the commission.
- Adam Kleinheider, spokesman for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, defended the passage of the bill and amendment.
- The Tennessean reported that “based on how an unsuccessful 2017 vote went in light of the commission composition from earlier this year, [Gov. Bill] Lee could have secured the removal of the bust had he pushed for it.”
- The two new positions affiliated with the legislature would likely tie the vote for removal at 7-7, but the report stated that it is unclear what would happen next in that case.
- Furthermore, per state law, “the Capitol Commission’s vote would only be one step in the removal process,” the Tennessean wrote. “The Tennessee Historical Commission must also sign off on such a change by approving a waiver to circumvent the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act, which prohibits the removal of historic memorials on public property.”
If the majority of the Capitol Commission agrees to move forward with requesting the waiver, then it would head to the Historical Commission, “which must take up the matter over the course of two meetings,” according to the state law.