Senate Republican leaders oppose removal of Richmond's Lee monument

The Robert E. Lee monument on Monument Avenue in Richmond | Photo: NBC12
The Robert E. Lee monument on Monument Avenue in Richmond | Photo: NBC12(WHSV)
Published: Jun. 5, 2020 at 7:15 PM EDT
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Several Virginia Republican leaders have issued statements expressing their opposition to Governor Ralph Northam's order to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue in Richmond.

On Thursday, Gov. Northam – joined by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, along with Robert Johns, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Rev. Robert Lee (a descendant of Robert E. Lee), Attorney General Mark Herring, and student Zeonna Bryant –

from Monument Avenue.

Separately, Richmond Mayor Stoney has

as well.

A law recently passed by the General Assembly gives local governments across Virginia the authority to remove Confederate monuments when it takes effect on July 1. But the Lee monument is on different ground – quite literally. It sits on about 100 feet of property owned by the commonwealth of Virginia, surrounded by Richmond-owned land.

That's why the governor has legal authority over it.

But despite Northam's statement on Thursday and high praise from other state leaders for removing what they called a "symbol of white supremacy," not everyone was in agreement, especially across the aisle in the General Assembly.

Senate Republican leaders say Governor Northam is wrong to have the statue removed.

In a joint statement, members of the GOP said:

“Like all Virginians, we were outraged and deeply saddened by the murder of George Floyd. His brutal and senseless death has shocked the entire nation. We renew our commitment to ensuring our criminal justice is system is fair to all, providing protections to everyone from the unnecessary use of force which ended Mr. Floyd’s life." “The Governor’s decision to remove the Lee statue from Monument Avenue is not in the best interests of Virginia. Attempts to eradicate instead of contextualizing history invariably fail. And because of this Governor’s personal history, the motivations of this decision will always be suspect. Like Senator Chase’s idiotic, inappropriate and inflammatory response, his decision is more likely to further divide, not unite, Virginians." “We remain committed to a Virginia that offers opportunity for all, one where racism and bigotry are not tolerated. We stand ready to work on behalf of all Virginians in achieving that ideal.”

The announcement to remove the statue came in the wake of protests and rioting across the country after the murder of George Floyd in police custody in Minnesota. Four police officers are now charged in his death.

The statement was signed by Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City), Caucus Chairman Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover), Caucus Co-Chairman Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham), Caucus Whips William M. Stanley, Jr. (R-Franklin) and Bryce E. Reeves (R-Spotsylvania), and Republican Leader Pro-Tempore Stephen D. Newman (R-Bedford).

The Senate Republican leaders' opposition was joined by the Virginia Flaggers, which has been fighting the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville in court for years.

Grayson Jennings issued the following statement on behalf of the Virginia Flaggers:

“The Virginia Flaggers are disgusted, but certainly not surprised by Mayor Stoney’s announcement today that he would introduce an ordinance July 1 to destroy the beautiful memorials on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of citizens and to satisfy the demands of a small, violent group of agitators, he is asking the citizens of Richmond to spend millions to destroy national landmarks in the middle of a pandemic that has wrecked the city’s economy. Failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and now city-wide vandalization and destruction of property will take a back seat to his agenda to rid the city of any history or heritage that he deems ‘offensive’. Once called the ‘Grandest Avenue in the South’, Monument Avenue will become a burned-out, boarded-up extension of the rest of the city, adding huge losses in tourism to already precarious financial woes. We can only hope that there are enough council members who are willing to put the needs of the citizens of the city over the demands of a few extremists and stop Stoney in his tracks.”

The majority of Richmond City Council has already expressed approval of the plan.