Saying they’re still “reviewing” the issue, state officials have not acted on various plans to deal with a controversial monument to Confederate soldiers at a state-run cemetery. They’ve also ignored a request by a member of the Sierra Vista city council asking to find out how to get rid of it.
Sarah Pacheco wrote to the Department of Veterans’ Services in June inquiring about the procedure to have the monument removed. Pacheco, a veteran herself, also questioned how the stone monument, with a Confederate battle flag and the inscription on how the soldier for “the constitutional right of self-government,” ever got placed there just a decade ago.
Pacheco told Capitol Media Services she never got an answer.
Agency spokeswoman Nicole Baker does not dispute that no one responded.
“Once a decision is reached, we will work with stakeholders in the community,” Baker said.
But this isn’t a new issue, with the existence of the controversial monument — and debate about its future — dating to at least 2017.
Yet Baker provided no timeline for when that review will happen. And other documents show the department and Director Wanda Wright are not making any moves to resolve the issue.
For example, the agency’s own documents said earlier this year it was going to reach out to “proponents” of any markers to provide “the opportunity to recover their markers for safekeeping.” But Baker conceded that no such offers have been made.
And she conceded that even a plan to reach out to marker proponents to call the police to urge protection for the markers never occurred.
The lack of action mirrors what has been the practice of Wright’s boss, Gov. Doug Ducey. For years the governor has brushed aside questions about Confederate monuments on state property, saying he has no interest in removing them.
More recently, facing increased questions, the governor did say he wants a “public process” to decide the future of any markers or memorials. But Ducey press aide Patrick Ptak acknowledged Tuesday his boss has yet to actually suggest one despite talking about the idea for months.
The Sierra Vista monument is the last of four that had been on state property.
One, across from the Capitol, was removed by the Daughters of the Confederacy earlier this year amid public protests and fear it could be vandalized. The same group also removed a roadside monument east of Apache Junction marking the Jefferson Davis Highway.
And a plaque at Picacho Peak State Park honoring Confederate veterans who fought a battle there was stolen.
That leaves only the stone marker at the Sierra Vista cemetery, complete with a Confederate battle flag and an inscription to honor those who fought and died for the Confederacy “in the struggle for independence and the constitutional right to self government.”
Pacheco said the issue came to the council when there was an inquiry from some residents.
She said the city has no direct say as the property belongs to the state. And Pacheco dismissed the idea of the council voting on a resolution on the issue as likely being ineffective.
“There doesn’t seem to be much pressure that has worked,” she said. “It turns out it’s really the governor’s call.”
But Pacheco said that should not end the debate.
“My personal feeling is that the marker should be removed,” she said.
“To say that the Civil War was about states’ rights or self governance is totally false,” Pacheco said. “It’s about slavery. It’s about defense of slavery, period.”
Mayor Rick Mueller said he is divided on the issue.
On one hand, the mayor said he has no problem noting that there may be Confederate soldiers buried there. Whether that’s true remain unclear as the remains, dating to the mid- and late 1800s, were moved from a cemetery in downtown Tucson more than a decade ago to make room for a new courthouse complex.
But Mueller said it’s not that simple.
“I can understand the verbiage on that may be offensive to some people,” he said. Mueller also believes it is wrong to leave out reference to the war being fought over slavery, saying it instead focuses on what was a “romantic” vision of the antebellum South.
Ducey has pushed back for years at the idea of removing Confederate monuments from state property.
“It’s not my desire or mission to tear down any monuments or memorials,” the governor said when controversy first arose in 2017. “I don’t think we should try to hide our history.”
But Pacheco said she believes it’s important to discuss the issue — and determine a process to decide whether to remove the monument.
“Let’s have that conversation,” she said.
Pacheco said it’s important to differentiate between the Confederate soldiers who died — assuming there are any buried in the Sierra Vista facility — and the marker that was erected a decade ago. She said any remains should be left in peace.
“But I understand that the marker is not marking their graves,” she said.
“It’s a monument to honor the Confederate cause,” Pacheco said. “That’s a different subject.”