Florida’s Governor is telling reporters he hasn’t seen a bill that would give him the power to remove local officials who take down monuments to the losing side in the Civil War.
“I’m not familiar with it. So I would have to take a look at it. I don’t know,” DeSantis said in Jacksonville, a place where the Democratic Mayor says she wants to remove a controversial Confederate monument from what was once called Confederate Park.
This is the second time the Governor’s Office has said it knows nothing about the bill, which was filed in a different version before.
“Since this legislation is still subject to the legislative process (and therefore different iterations), the governor will decide on the merits of the bill in final form if and when it passes and is delivered to the governor’s office,” asserted Press Secretary Jeremy Redfern, who used language he’s used previously when asked about bills that haven’t passed yet when we pushed for comment last week.
HB 395, filed by Rep. Dean Black of Jacksonville, proposes state “protection of historical monuments and memorials” and authorizes “all actions to protect and preserve all historical monuments and memorials from removal, damage, or destruction.”
The bill would punish local lawmakers and officials who voted to remove such memorials, authorizing a fine of the costs of replacing or repairing the memorial out of their personal wealth for removal actions. It would also give DeSantis the power to remove elected leaders from local office from the time the bill takes effect.
“An elected official acting in his or her official capacity who knowingly and willfully violates this section is subject to removal from office by the Governor,” the bill reads.
The bill explicitly stipulates that “any official, agent, or member of a local government who directs, permits, facilitates, or votes to remove or destroy a monument or memorial is subject to a civil penalty of up to $5,000, or the actual cost of the removal and replacement of the monument or memorial, including repairs that may be necessitated due to the relocation and replacement, whichever is greater. Such penalty shall be paid from the official’s, agent’s, or member’s personal funds without any reimbursement from any other entity.”
This suggests that the burden of repayment would fall on local officials, rather than the taxpayer, should they take the risk of flouting state law.
The state would preempt local authority over monument removal unless it’s part of a construction project, in which case moving the structure would be allowed for up to a year.
The bill language makes the state preemption explicit against “any local elected officials who may be swayed by undue influence by groups who may feel offended or hurt by certain actions in the history of the state or the nation.” It is unclear what “undue influence” means in this context.
Current Democratic Mayor Donna Deegan has lobbied the City Council to allocate funds for the removal of the remaining statue, which would be moved off of public lands and left somewhere private for monument enthusiasts to visit it. Thus far, the supermajority Republican Council has resisted those executive branch efforts. State legislation would obviously make such efforts moot.
Deegan denounced the legislative proposal Thursday afternoon.
“This bill would be just another slap in the face to our Black community, which has already endured so much. It’s also an unconstitutional overreach that is the latest example of home rule being stripped away from Florida cities,” she said.
Remarks DeSantis has made on the presidential campaign trail suggest that he is taking a newly sympathetic look at preserving Confederate history, including reversal of one base renaming despite the ignominious military history of its former namesake.
In June, the Florida Governor said that the newly rechristened Fort Liberty in North Carolina should have its name changed back to honor Braxton Bragg, whose legacy as a rebel commander was undistinguished even by the markers of the rebel army.
Fort Bragg was renamed “Fort Liberty” earlier this year, on the recommendation of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Commission on the Naming of Items. The goal was to change the names of facilities “that commemorate the Confederate States of America or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America.”
Despite the limited scope of the DOD’s renaming, the Governor likened taking Bragg’s name off the fort to efforts to “take Abraham Lincoln off the statue down in Boston … take Teddy Roosevelt down in New York City” and “remove George Washington’s name from schools in San Francisco.”
“And that’s not, I think, what I want to see. I mean, I think you can look back at anybody and you could find flaws. But at the end of the day, you know, we had people that have done great things for this country,” DeSantis said.
“I’m not in a position to say that somehow I’m so much better than any of this. It’s a different time. People make mistakes. There’s different parts of our society, we look back and can say was a mistake. But this idea that we’re going to erase history, I just think, is fundamentally wrong, and we’re not going to do that.”
The installation’s former name honors Gen. Bragg, a North Carolinian, who was known for owning slaves and losing key Civil War battles that contributed to the Confederacy’s downfall.
A native of Warrenton, North Carolina, Bragg was in his position until 1863, when after a defeat at Chattanooga, he was removed from that lead role at his request and became a military advisor for Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Despite his relegation, he would go on to be the on-the-scene commander during Confederate defeats throughout the war, including a failed attempt to protect the port in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Rather than lead protection of the port, Bragg stayed behind at the fort away from the fray, to the consternation of the fort’s commander.