By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has vetoed legislation which would have prevented Virginia locales from knocking down or moving monuments to past wars, especially those erected to honor the soldiers and legacy of the old Confederacy. McAuliffe said the bill would prohibit communities from making their own decisions about controversial symbols. House Bill 587 would aim to clarify the scope of a law passed in 1998 that prevented local governments from disturbing or interfering with war-related monuments. It was one of the first bills McAuliffe vetoed in early March near the end of the 2016 legislative session. McAuliffe said he supports historic preservation, but called the legislation a “sweeping override of local authority” that has ramifications for “interpretive signage to tell the story of some of our darkest moments during the Civil War.”
“There is a legitimate discussion going on in localities across the Commonwealth regarding whether to retain, remove, or alter certain symbols of the Confederacy,” McAuliffe said in his veto message. In the city of Portsmouth, the majority Black council is devising a way to pay for the removal of a prominent Confederate monument downtown. In the city of Norfolk, activist Roy Perry-Bey of the United Front for Justice, has demanded that the city council remove a huge Confederate monument sitting in the heart of city’s business district downtown.
In Richmond, the first Confederate capital, Mayor Dwight C. Jones, who is Black, has balked at moving on demands that the council remove a large number of monuments to rebel heroes such as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson. Mayor Jones has said he is more focused on “building up” rather than tearing down. The call nationally to remove Confederate flags and monuments from public places was generated last year in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine Black worshipers were shot to death at a church by a young White racist who supported the Klan. McAuliffe moved to phase out state-issued license plates showing the Confederate flag shortly after.
This bill’s main sponsor was State Delegate Charles D. Poindexter, a Republican from Franklin County. He said the Governor’s veto leaves all of Virginia’s war memorials at risk. The Republican-controlled legislature could vote to overturn McAuliffe’s veto when it reconvenes April 20. The House of Delegates passed the bill with a 82-16 vote. The margin was tighter in the Senate where the bill passed 21-17 with broad Democratic opposition.