On August 17th, Lt. Governor Ralph Northam surprised many Virginia political observers when he went on Roanoke radio station WFIR and said he now believed Virginia’s Civil War statues, both those at the local level and those controlled by the state, should come down immediately.
He told the station:
“I will do everything that I can, that I have authority to do, to to remove the statues at the state level and I also will be a vocal advocate for their removal elsewhere.”
(WFIR August 17, 2017
This position from Northam stands in stark contrast to Ed Gillespie’s consistent position, which is that he believes decisions regarding city and county statues should be made by the localities, but he believes those statutes should stay up, with context. Local tax dollars should be used not for removing monuments, but for schools, roads, teacher and law enforcement salaries and the core functions of government.
And that when it comes to state statues, which a governor has significant authority over, they will stay up in a Gillespie Administration. Gillespie has also called for the erection of new monuments to other Virginians including former Governor Doug Wilder and Booker T. Washington. As Gillespie has said, “our history is our history.”
Longtime Virginia political columnist Jeff Schapiro at The Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote about the Lieutenant Governor’s dramatic move, noting:
“Northam declared – unbidden – that if it were up to him, he would take all of them down…Northam is playing to the Democratic base, further revving up the party’s most enthusiastic voters. But is he going too far with an issue that is more symbolic than substantive?”
(Richmond Times-Dispatch, August 19, 2017
It now turns out, after extensive public polling on the issue, that yes, the Lieutenant Governor did go “too far.” And the headline of Jeff Schapiro’s column looks eerily prescient: “Northam’s new stance on statues a monumental blunder?”
Here’s what public polling has revealed in the six weeks since the Lieutenant Governor introduced his promise to take down Virginia’s Civil War statues into the 2017 gubernatorial campaign:
20. As you know, there has been a great deal of discussion recently about Confederate statues and monuments. Some people see them as historical objects, while others see them as racist symbols. Which is closer to your view?
Historical objects 62%
Racist symbols 28%
Both [VOL] 6%
21. Do you think statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy such as Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson should remain as a historical symbol or be removed because they are offensive to some people?
22. And should we remove the statues at many courthouses in Virginia that commemorate the soldiers who died in the Civil War or allow them to remain?