Gov. Doug Ducey’s assertions that he has no role in deciding the future of four Confederate monuments on state land appear not to be backed up by statute, according to a key state lawmaker.
House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said any decisions about removing those monuments and memorials likely have to come in the form of legislation which has to be signed by the governor to take effect. And Mesnard said it’s appropriate to have a “thoughtful” conversation about each of the monuments on state property when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
By contrast, Ducey this past week made the pronouncement he does not favor removal of any of the monuments.
“I don’t think we should try to hide our history,” the governor said, including one within view of his office window at the Capitol that was not even erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy until 1961, a century after the Civil War and nearly 50 years after Arizona became a state.
Governors in several other states already had moved to take down some of these statutes even before the violence at the white supremacist demonstration in Virginia.
Ducey, however, is seeking to distance himself from the debate, saying if people have concerns they should approach the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission which has purview over the park across from the state Capitol where one of the monuments is located.
But Kevin DeMenna, who chairs that panel, said neither he nor his commission has any authority to actually require that a monument be removed. The decision, he said, ultimately has to come from the Legislature and the governor would have to sign any measure.
That’s also the way it appears to Mesnard.
“The mall commission’s more of a manager,” he said.
Senate President Steve Yarbrough agreed.
“The only way a memorial gets put on the mall or gets removed from the mall is with a bill,” he said.
Yarbrough said if someone introduces legislation in January to get rid of any or all of the monuments he will assign it to one or more committees for a hearing. And if it passes the Senate and House, that puts the question squarely in the governor’s lap.
Ducey, however, wants no part of the controversy.
Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato cited a law which says the commission can ask to “relocate” any monument or memorial. And he contends that includes the ability to “relocate” it right off state property.
Even assuming Ducey is correct about who controls the memorial on the mall, that still leaves three others dedicated to remembering the Confederacy that are on state property. But unlike the Capitol mall, they are under the purview of state agencies whose directors all serve at the pleasure of the governor.
But Scarpinato deflected questions about how his boss thinks the public could weigh in about having those monuments removed — other than petitioning Ducey himself, the situation the governor is trying to avoid.
“I have no answer for you on that,” he said.
Mesnard said any legislative decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, as there are some clear differences not only between the monuments but the text on each.
For example, Mesnard said he is uncomfortable with the verbiage on a monument at a cemetery run by the Arizona Department of Veterans Services in Sierra Vista — placed there in 2010 — saying it is a memorial to “Arizona Confederate veterans who sacrificed all in the struggle for independence and the constitutional right of self government.”
“If you read the Articles of Secession, they sound very similar to the Declaration of Independence except for one monumental difference,” he said. “And that is the right to own slaves.”
Mesnard said he is a supporter of states’ rights. But he called it “horrifying” that “the South hung their state sovereignty hats on slavery.”
“That’s not what I mean by state sovereignty,” he said.
He has not taken a position on a separate monument along a stretch of US 60 near Apache Junction on the right of way owned by the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Originally placed along a different state road in 1943 by the Daughters of the Confederacy, it marks the Jefferson Davis Highway which was supposed to become a coast-to-coast road honoring the president of the Confederate States of America.
Earlier this week it was vandalized with tar and feathers.
Then there’s Picacho Peak State Park, maintained by the Parks Department, where the only Civil War battle in Arizona was fought.
Erected there is a sign about the battle which has a Confederate flag and refers to the “War Between the States.” There also is a plaque “dedicated to those Confederate frontiersmen” who occupied the Arizona territory the Confederacy had claimed as its own and fought off Union soldiers.
Mesnard said there are things to consider when tearing down monuments to soldiers.
“They were drafted,” he said. “And probably most of the soldiers didn’t own slaves or probably couldn’t afford to own slaves anyway.”
But Mesnard said he’s not blind to what the war was about.
“They were fighting about slavery, which is an abhorrent institution,” he said.
Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, says Ducey should take the lead in removing all of the monuments to the Confederacy and those who fought for it.
“These were people who were saying people who looked like me should not have equal rights, we should be slaves,” Bolding said. And he said it is “appalling” that African Americans have to have these on public property and, in some cases, maintained at public expense.
Megan Rose, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration, said her agency is responsible for maintenance and cleaning of all the monuments across from the Capitol and tending the areas around them. And when someone put white paint on the Confederate monument there this past week, it was state employees who cleaned it off.
Scarpinato said the public sides with Ducey in wanting to keep the monuments in place. He cited a national Marist Poll done for NPR and PBS which said 62 percent of Americans think the monuments and statues to the Confederacy should stay, with just 27 percent saying they should be removed because some find them offensive.