A new statewide survey shows more than half of Arizonans don’t want to remove a monument to Confederate soldiers now located across from the Capitol.
The poll of 400 likely 2018 voters done for HighGround, a political consulting firm, found 51.5 percent said the memorial should definitely be allowed to remain. Another 10.3 percent said it probably should be kept in its current location.
On the other side of the equation, 26.3 percent said it definitely should be removed, with 6 percent saying it probably should go.
HighGround CEO Chuck Coughlin said what makes the numbers surprising is that monument supporters can’t simply be written off as Trump supporters.
He said that close to six out of every 10 people who identified themselves as independent or not affiliated with either major party apparently have no problem with the memorial. Yet Coughlin noted that just 33 percent of that group approve of the job being done by the president.
The results come amid the dust-up, both nationally and locally, about how appropriate it is to have monuments to the Confederacy or those who fought for it on public grounds.
It also comes as Rep. Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen, is leading an effort to remove not just that monument in Wesley Bolin Plaza but also other similar markers and memorials on state property.
But action on all of them could depend on the political will of the Legislature, which has sway over the one across from the Capitol, and Gov. Doug Ducey whose agencies control the property where the others are located. What they decide could be swayed by what they see as public sentiment, with Ducey already having staked out the position that removing any of them would “hide our history.”
Coughlin, a long-time political adviser to Republican interests, said it’s not a simple question of history.
While there was a Civil War skirmish fought near Picacho Peak, where one of the monuments is located, the others lack that same history. In fact, the one at the Capitol was not placed there until 1961, marking not only the anniversary of the start of the war but also as the civil rights movement was gaining steam.
“I think context matters,” Bolding said. He said the results might be different if people understood not only when the memorial went in but also why.
“The monument was put there in 1961, right in the middle of the civil rights movement, not to honor Confederate soldiers but as a way to really use that symbol to let African-Americans to know they should not have equal rights, to sort of bring back all of what the Confederacy stood for during its time,” he said.
“I have no doubt that it was built for very political purposes at the time that it was built,” he said, erected to make “a political statement.” But that’s just half of the issue.
“And I have no doubt today that the driving urge to remove it is also driven by similar political purposes,” he said. And Coughlin said all that needs to be part of the discussion about its fate and that of similar monuments.
Even less clear is who has the authority to remove the monument.
Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said there’s statutory language which allows the Legislative Mall Commission to “relocate” existing monuments. He said — and Bolding agrees — that would seem to allow that panel to “relocate” it off the mall entirely, perhaps to a museum.
But Bolding conceded that law is “unclear,” meaning the fate of the memorial may still require action by lawmakers when they reconvene in January.
The survey conducted this past weekend did not ask about the fate of a marker near Apache Junction designating a stretch of road there as the Jefferson Davis Highway, nor about and memorials to Confederate soldiers both at Picacho Peak and the state veterans cemetery in Sierra Vista, that last one having been placed when the facility opened in 2011.