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Confederate statues should not be removed

On Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam launched his biggest distraction from his failures to lead yet, the removal of the Lee Monument on Monument Avenue.

Between his efforts and those of Mayor Levar Stoney, there will be no Confederate monuments in public spaces by this time next year. In fact, just this weekend, protesters tore down the statue of Confederate General Williams Carter Wickham. At this time, no city officials will comment on where the statue has been taken.

Gov. Northam has failed in his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, and those failures were only compounded by his handling of the protests and riots following the inexcusable police killing of George Floyd. Northam failed to act for 48 hours, allowing arson, looting, and vandalism to run wild in Richmond and other cities around the commonwealth.

As businesses were burned and looted around Virginia for 48 hours, the governor was nowhere to be seen, leaving local leaders to fend for themselves. When the governor finally did emerge from hiding to hold a press event on Tuesday, he could not bring himself to criticize the people a reporter said were “destroying the city.” Instead, the governor said we should “listen” to looters and arsonists.

Peaceful protest is part of the American experience. It is protected by the Constitution, and in the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd, they are absolutely justified. Those who loot, burn, and vandalize are hurting the very communities they say they want to support. Calling those people out is just as American as a peaceful protest or civil disobedience.

It is absolutely clear that Gov. Northam is so paralyzed by his past statements and actions on matters of race that he is unable to effectively lead at this time. When a small group of 20 or so people began to protest in May over the restrictions on business, their protest was disbanded because it violated the limit on gatherings to 10 people. Now, hundreds and thousands of people march in close proximity with no pushback from Northam and his team.

As the governor likes to say, the virus doesn’t respect political boundaries. It is not a Republican or Democratic virus. Yet the governor and his team continue to allow giant protests to go forward in spite of the declared public health emergency. Either the ban on groups larger than 10 (or 50 starting last Friday) is critical to public health or it is not. If it is safe for these groups to congregate, then businesses should be allowed to reopen. If it is not safe, authorities should disband them.

Reasonable people can disagree on monuments, but what Gov. Northam has done, is to pour gas on an already growing fire of anger and unrest. The new Democrat majority gave local governments control over monuments starting July 1. I have consistently voted against removal of the monuments, including voting against House Bill 1537 and Senate Bill 183, which gave localities that authority during the 2020 General Assembly session.

Northam was already flailing due to his failed leadership on COVID-19. He has made inconsistent decisions, ignored the advice of his own reopening advisors, and turned a deaf ear to Southwest and Southside Virginia when they asked to restart their economies.

Northam’s handling of testing has earned rebuke from such conservative supporters as The Washington Post, and now we’re learning that Virginia’s nursing homes are among the worst in the nation due to COVID-19 and Northam’s failure to test for the disease.

The governor had little choice but to change the subject in the most sweeping way he had at his disposal — thus, monument removal becomes the order of the day. Those who said his leadership was compromised and he should step down are being proven right by the day. I believe that the Confederate statues are an important part of our history here in Virginia and I stand firmly against their removal.

Del. Tommy Wright can be reached via email at DelTWright@house.virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.