FRANKFORT — Gov. Matt Bevin said Tuesday he now opposes removing the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis from the Kentucky Capitol Rotunda and echoed comments by President Donald Trump that all sides share blame for the violent events this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
After a bill signing ceremony, Bevin was asked if he opposes removing Confederate statues from government property.
“I don’t think it’s a given that that’s a good idea,” Bevin answered. “I don’t. I never have. I think these are decisions that should be made by people — as is the case in this building — what’s located in this building is comprised of a panel of people who make decisions as it relates to what is in the capitol.”
Bevin referred to the Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Committee which in 2015, following the murders of African American church goers in Charleston, S. Car., debated removing the Davis statue but ultimately decided to keep it while adding some sort of historical context. That still hasn’t happened.
But at the time, while Bevin was running for governor, he called for removing the Davis statue, saying while history shouldn’t be forgotten, “parts of our history are more appropriately displayed in museums, not on government property.”
On Tuesday, Bevin said removing the statue would be “revisionist history.” Reporters asked Bevin what led him to change his position.
“What I’m saying today is what I believe and that is that it is a dangerous precedent,” Bevin responded. “I don’t need to repeat myself in this respect. But there is no home for bigotry or hatred in Kentucky. Anybody who knows my life, my stance on anything, knows where I stand on this. And there is nothing whatsoever — even remotely — disconnected between the two.”
Bevin and his wife, Glenna, are adoptive parents to four children from Ethiopia.
Like the Confederate battle flag and other Confederate symbols, the Davis statue is an ugly reminder and symbol for many, especially African Americans, of the country’s acceptance of slavery before the Civil War and of segregation and discrimination afterward.
The Kentucky Chapter of the NAACP has long sought to have the Davis statue removed. In the wake of the Charlottesville, Va., events last weekend, prompted by White Nationalists’ demonstrations there against the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a public park, it is renewing calls to remove Davis’ statue.
Bevin also seemed to echo Trump’s heavily criticized initial reaction to the Charlottesville violence which left one woman dead and 19 injured, when the president said “many sides” are to blame.
Trump was roundly criticized for those comments, including by leading Republicans in Congress, and Monday he issued another statement specifically naming groups like the KKK, neo-Nazis and other white supremacist groups.
But then Tuesday afternoon, Trump doubled down, claiming the counter protestors charged the white nationalist demonstrators and share equal blame for the violence.
On Tuesday, Bevin was clear and adamant that he sees no place for any sort of hatred or bigotry in Kentucky. But he also seemed to suggest those opposing the white supremacist groups in Charlottesville share blame for the violence.
“There’s no side in any of the hatred that is more right than the other side that is spewing hatred,” Bevin said. “The problem is when you have people who are diametrically opposed to each other but each is as hateful as the next, clashing with one another, and willing to take the life of an innocent person for some reason that they may not fully understand, there’s something wrong with that.”
Bevin was referring to the death of Heather Heyer, 32, one of the counter protestors who was killed when James Alex Fields, 20, of Maumee, Ohio, who grew up in northern Kentucky, rammed his car into a crowd of people, killing Heyer and injuring others. Fields was among the white nationalist protesters.
The violence has set off another national debate about race, hatred and symbols of racial oppression, including those like the statues of Lee in Charlottesville and Davis in the Kentucky Capitol Rotunda.
Shortly after news broke about the violence in Charlottesville Saturday, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced he was accelerating plans to ask the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government Council to move two Confederate statues from the old Fayette County Courthouse in downtown Lexington.
The council met Tuesday afternoon and approved Gray’s request unanimously. Statues of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and Confederate soldier and later Secretary of War John C. Breckinridge, both Kentuckians, stand on the site which was once the location of one of the South’s largest slave auctions.
The Lexington Herald-Leader reported Tuesday that Matthew Hembach, of the Traditionalist Workers’ Party, a white nationalist group, now plans a demonstration in Lexington at some as yet undetermined date.
That same group held a rally in Pikeville in April and is listed as an organization under the umbrella of the Nationalist Front, which is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.