Susan Platt, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in the June 13 primary, on Thursday called for removing all Confederate monuments in Virginia and renaming all highways and buildings named for Confederates.
The issue has permeated the GOP primary for governor, but a news release Thursday from Platt introduced it into the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, a part-time office tasked with presiding over the state Senate when the General Assembly is in session.
“If I am elected lieutenant governor, I will ask the governor to appoint me to lead a commission charged with taking down Confederate monuments as well as renaming Confederate-themed highways and public buildings,” Platt said in a news release. “Our taxpayer dollars should not be used to celebrate a rebellion against the United States of America, a rebellion intended to maintain slavery.”
She suggested buildings could be named after former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder — the nation’s first elected African-American governor — and former Attorney General Mary Sue Terry — the only woman elected to statewide office in Virginia — rather than Confederates.
Platt said efforts in Charlottesville and New Orleans to move Confederate monuments inspired her. The city of New Orleans recently removed four Confederate monuments amid controversy, capped by a passionate speech from Mayor Mitch Landrieu about the history of monuments and why they needed to be moved from public spaces.
Charlottesville officials want to remove an equestrian statute of Robert E. Lee from a public park. The Sons of Confederate Veterans has a lawsuit attempting to stop removal, relying in part on a state law that prohibits removal of war memorials.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has not called for removal of the city’s prominent monuments to Confederates but wants to add context to them.
Many see the monuments as symbols of slavery, white supremacy and racial oppression, while many others see them as tributes to Southern heritage and have lamented the idea of removing them.
“We’re not in any fear that if this woman were elected lieutenant governor she could do that. Although we know some governors who have done some pretty crazy things, including the one that we have now,” said B. Frank Earnest Sr., the heritage defense coordinator with the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia.
“We should really honor the fact that we have statues of Robert E. Lee,” a “great Virginian who gave everything he owned to defend Virginia.”
Debate over the Confederate flag and imagery intensified after Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015. A photo appeared online showing him holding a Confederate flag and a gun.
Then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pushed for removal of the Confederate flag that flew on the State House grounds. The flag was taken down just weeks later.
In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe ordered a recall of Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates featuring a Confederate flag logo
, saying the image was “unnecessarily divisive and hurtful to too many of our people.”
An April 2016 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center examined the number of public symbols of the Confederacy in the United States. The study found more than 700 Confederate monuments and statues on public property, mostly in the South.
Virginia, with 96 monuments, had more than other states. Virginia was followed by Georgia and North Carolina, with 90 each. Monuments began going up after the Civil War, but there was a significant spike in monument dedications during Jim Crow and the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s, according to the report.
Platt, a longtime party activist and former lobbyist, is in a three-person Democratic primary with two former federal prosecutors, Justin Fairfax and Gene Rossi. All three live in Northern Virginia.
Fairfax responded with a statement calling monuments to the Confederacy, slavery or Jim Crow “indefensible and psychologically harmful” and said he’d fight for progress after those symbols are taken down.
“As an African-American candidate for lieutenant governor of the commonwealth of Virginia in 2017, I believe that symbolism matters, but substance matters even more,” he said in the statement.
He called for policy work on a variety of issues, including “dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, closing the racial wealth and health gap, addressing the targeting of harmful tobacco and alcohol products to youth and minority populations, increasing minority employment, entrepreneurship, and access to capital.”
Fairfax said other goals included “stopping the unjustified shooting of unarmed African-Americans and all people,” criminal justice reforms and ending the drug war.
Platt was a lobbyist for tobacco giant Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, for years in Washington. Platt has said she helped Altria change the way it does business.
Rossi, in a statement, said it’s time to recognize that the Confederacy’s main objective was to preserve slavery.
“I support efforts to remove prominent Confederate monuments in public venues, especially given that their construction was often motivated by a continued cult-like resistance and disdain for federal powers over integration and civil rights. I do support their relocation to history museums, which President Obama and other leaders have always supported.”
Confederate monuments have not been an issue in the three-way Republican primary for lieutenant governor.
Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr., R-Virginia Beach, one of the three GOP hopefuls, said Lee “was one of the most passionate Virginians that our commonwealth has ever had, and if someone wants to start taking down his monuments they need to start with his statue in the old House of Delegates chamber. And God help the person that tries.”
The campaigns of the other two GOP hopefuls, state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Fauquier, and Sen. Bryce E. Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, did not immediately offer comment on the issue.