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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

Senate President may stall support for Confederate monument protection bill

Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee
Ken Kohn/K.L. Kohn
Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee

Legislative leadership could be getting cold feet about a bill that would protect Confederate monuments after open White supremacists spoke in support of the bill during public comment in committee last week.

For years, proponents of a plan to stop the removal of monuments, specifically ones associated with the Confederacy, have claimed their measure is about preserving history. This year’s version of the bill would keep local governments from removing all historical monuments, including Confederate ones, but also provides an option for officials to erect an “explainer” plaque to contextualize the monument.

But Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said last week she is unsure whether she supports the bill should it come before the full Senate for a vote.

“There are problems with the bill. More than that, there are problems with the perceptions among our caucus on all sides. So, I’m going to take that into consideration. I’m not going to bring a bill to the floor that is so abhorrent to everybody,” she said.

Those problems came to a head days ago during a heated public comment session on the bill. Opponents, like Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida’s Ida Smith, brought up how most confederate monuments were constructed during the Jim Crow era as a symbol of White Supremacy.

“They were there to make sure Black communities understood that they were not welcome. Which is why, following the erection of all these statues, over 800 in America, we saw what was known as the great migration, where Black communities fled the South to go to the North,” she said.

Many of the nation’s Confederate Monuments were first erected in the 1890s following reconstruction, and the 1920s and 30s following the establishment of anti-Black, Jim Crow era laws. The second wave of such monuments came during the Civil Rights movement. For many Black Americans, symbols like confederate monuments are inextricably tied to hatred, racism and white supremacy. And the words of defenders signal an endorsement of, and re-enforcement of those perceptions.

So, when self-described white supremacists and Live Oak attorney Charles Patrick backed the bill, the Senate committee room erupted in outrage.

“This product of the removal of statues of historical significance that are over 100 years old is a part of the cultural war being waged against White society,” Patrick said.

Miami Republican Senator Alexis Calatayud asked Patrick to clarify what he meant by that.

“In supporting White culture, or supporting the concept or the need to push white supremacy is what I heard. White culture, white supremacy. I just want to clarify that was your intent in your public testimony here today,” Calatayud said.

“Yes, it was,” Patrick responded.

Democrats on the committee were so outraged after those comments that they walked out. Fleming Island Republican Senator Jennifer Bradley said says she considered voting against the bill after the racist comments.

“Comments that I heard today from several gentleman and I’m looking right at you, were vile, were bigoted, they were racist. They are what is tearing apart our state. They are what is driving a wedge between people. And you are the reason I’m vacillating to even vote yes, because it looks like I endorse your hatred,” she said.

Still she, and all Republicans on the committee, did vote in favor of the bill. The measure still needs to be heard by another committee before it can even be considered on the Senate floor.

Tristan Wood is a senior producer and host with WFSU Public Media. A South Florida native and University of Florida graduate, he focuses on state government in the Sunshine State and local panhandle political happenings.