Last month, Republican State Rep. Jason Spencer and former legislation Democrat LaDawn Jones went head to head over Confederate monuments across Georgia. The controversy went viral across the nation and supporters from both sides once again became wildly vocal. Wednesday morning, the pair sat down to discuss their sides, their reasoning and a proposed compromise for the legislature to consider in January 2018.
Spencer and Jones, along with Mike Hassinger of Apache Communications, opened with comments on the media frenzy and the sensationalization that occurred in August, but also the relationship the duo had in the State House as seat mates from opposing political parties.
The background the pair has from their time working together under the Gold Dome is what brought them to the table Wednesday with the draft legislation they’ve been working on over the last month.
Here’s the meat of it:
The proposed legislation would empower local governments, on their own accord, to either sell the monuments to a private entity with a bonafide interest, or to give the monuments to Stone Mountain for safe keeping.
Spencer called the measures approach “Jeffersonian” in that it allows for local control based on the desires of the citizens and their representatives.
Additionally, Stone Mountain would be converted from a “Confederate monument” to a “historical monument” recognizing the role Georgia played in the Civil War.
Jones said she would like to see the Confederate flags at the bottom of Stone Mountain removed, but that isn’t in the bill at this time. “Those people are treasonous. They attempted to split our country into two. We do not need to continue to uplift them as if splitting our country is a positive thing. However, it is a part of history and you can’t erase history. But we don’t need a Confederate park in Georgia. What we do need is a historical park that talks about ALL of the Civil War.”
She went on, “The Confederate flags at the bottom of the memorial are a problem. They need to be removed, but I also understand that politics, not Trumpian politics, but real politics is about compromise. In order to compromise, I was satisfied with expanding the purpose of the park and giving the room for the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to decide what goes in and out of the park and to have the authority to make those changes without going through the legislature. I also recognized there are people who are worried Stone Mountain will be sandblasted…”
Jones slammed statewide candidates running for office for using sandblasting the mountain as a campaign point, something Minority Leader and gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams did last month. “That’s ridiculous,” she said. “It’s a waste of tax dollars and it doesn’t solve the issue and it’s more divisive.”
Stone Mountain’s protection, along with added monuments from local governments, would also give room for an expansion of historical artifacts, Jones said, including aspects from African Americans, women, those were free, and those who were enslaved.
Spencer, at one point, said he would also favor the privatization of Stone Mountain. “I really feel like government shouldn’t tell you what to think or feel. That’s sort of where I come from in terms of principle. If we’re concerned about what confederate monuments mean, what symbols mean, then let’s privatize Stone Mountain. Let’s sell it to a party with a bonafide interest and make sure the good of it is actually preserved.”
Jones, however, said she was against privatization. “I couldn’t agree to the privatization because there’s a broader history. Stone Mountain for a time was used as a reforming portion for the Ku Klux Klan.”
In closing, both Spencer and Jones discussed the media’s role in the debacle back in August. Spencer went as far to call it ‘media malpractice.’ “As elected officials, we are held to a higher standard, she’s an officer of the court and I’m a state representative, we do have a higher standard, however, we are people, we are human, and we have the same intense discussions like everybody else does at the water cooler.”
Jones said, “My biggest concern is not the bill being passed but that the media is more concerned about the fight we had, not the solutions we are trying to bring.”
“If we can’t have a discussion like this, then each side will go to their separate corners and dig in,” Spencer said. “Everything about the south is not evil, or about racism or oppression.”
The bill would have to pass through the hands of 179 other state representatives and the state senate before it could become law. Spencer said the Republican leadership in the House is aware of the draft legislation, but there have been no statements in favor of against as of Wednesday at noon.
*I attended the on-air event Wednesday morning as part of my “day job” with AllOnGeorgia.