TALLAHASSEE | Chances remain about zero that Republican leaders will be swayed by calls from the state’s Democratic congressional delegation to hold a one-day special session to replace a statue of a Confederate general representing Florida in the U.S. Capitol.
With bills addressing the issue already filed for the 2018 regular legislative session, state Republican leaders gave no indication they will hold a special session after Florida’s 11 congressional Democrats signed identical letters Wednesday to Gov. Rick Scott, state House Speaker Richard Corcoran and state Senate President Joe Negron.
The letters call for the state leaders to “take immediate action” with a special session to replace the likeness of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith at the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.
The Legislature voted in 2016 to replace a statue of the St. Augustine-born Smith. That vote came during a nationwide backlash against Confederate symbols in the wake of the 2015 shooting deaths of nine African-American worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.
But lawmakers during the 2017 session did not reach agreement on whose likeness should replace Smith.
After this week’s letters from Democrats calling for a special session, McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott, repeated the governor’s prior statements that it is up to the Legislature to resolve the issue.
Corcoran’s office appeared even less enthused. Two weeks ago, Corcoran essentially rejected a similar call made by U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Broward County Democrat.
“Like most politicians in Washington, the congresswoman is out of touch,” Corcoran replied via Twitter. “We’ve already made this decision and are now having a conversation about which great Floridian we should honor. The congresswoman should stop grandstanding and focus on balancing the federal budget.”
The letters Wednesday from the Democrats noted that the Legislature did not approve a measure during the 2017 session that would have replaced the likeness of Smith with one of civil-rights leader and educator Mary McLeod Bethune.
“As the third largest state, and easily one of the most diverse in the nation, Florida has an opportunity to send a defining message by replacing the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith that currently represents the state of Florida in the United States Capitol,” the letters state.
Smith, who has represented Florida in the national collection since 1922, was born in St. Augustine in 1824 but spent most of his adult life living outside Florida.
State Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Patrick Henry, D-Daytona Beach, have proposed resolutions (SCR 184 and HCR 73) for the 2018 session that would lead to Bethune replacing Smith as one of Florida’s two representatives in the National Statuary Hall. The other statue is of John Gorrie, widely considered the father of air conditioning.
On Wednesday, the House version of the resolution was assigned to two committees for the 2018 session: Government Accountability and Rules and Policy. Missing is the House Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, where the proposal was blocked earlier this year by Chairman Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood.
The Senate measure also has been assigned to two committees: Appropriations and Rules.
The latest call to replace the Smith statue comes in the wake of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly. A plan to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee helped spur the rally.
A panel known as the Great Floridians Committee last year nominated three possible candidates to replace Smith in the National Statuary Hall. In addition to Bethune, the others were Everglades activist and writer Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Publix grocery story founder George Washington Jenkins Jr.