Haslam request to move Forrest bust rejected

The State Capitol Commission today rejected Gov. Bill Haslam’s request to move a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from the lobby of the state Capitol building to the state museum. Seven of the members on hand opposed the move; five voted yes – and the tally could be seen as a legislature-versus-the-governor lineup.

All three of the state’s constitutional officers, who are elected by the state legislature — Comptroller Justin Wilson, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Treasurer David Lillard – were among the no votes. So were both state legislators who are members, Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, and Rep. Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville. Two citizen members joined them.

The yes votes came from three Haslam-appointees —  Finance Commissioner Larry Martin; General Services Commissioner Bob Oglesby; Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau – along with Tennessee Historical Commission chair Reavis Mitchell and Howard Gentry, Davidson County Criminal Court clerk, joined them. Mitchell and Gentry are the only black members of the panel.

From The Tennessean’s report:

Martin (who made the motion to move the bust) said a vote for relocating the bust to the state museum is a vote for unity and civility.

After Martin’s motion, the commission had a lengthy discussion about the bust, which has come under fire in the aftermath of violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Va., last month, and other issues.

… Rep. Curtis Johnson said the removal of the Forrest bust could lead to a slippery slope. “Where does this stop?” he rhetorically asked.

Hargett said he was concerned the commission was undoing the work of the state’s elected officials.

…Jennifer Donnals, a spokesperson for Gov. Bill Haslam, who asked the commission to take up the issue, said the governor was “very disappointed with the decision.”

Further from the Nashville Post:

Comptroller Justin Wilson questioned whether the commission even had the authority to remove a bust installed by the Legislature. And Treasurer David Lillard advocated for future adoption of a plan in which all the busts and portraits in the Capitol (including that of Forrest) are rotated between the building and the Tennessee State Museum every so often, providing a fuller picture of the history of the state.

… Johnson, Hargett, Wilson and Lillard were joined in their votes against the move by state Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), Memphis lawyer King Rogers and Tammy White, the head of Leadership Knoxville and the only woman on the committee. Both Rep. and Sen. Johnsons are planning to run for leadership positions in their respective chambers in the next year or two, depending on when House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris officially leave office.

…Gentry gave an impassioned speech against keeping the statue in place.

“When I was a little boy and came into the state capitol, there were ‘colored’ bathrooms. That bothered me then. It bothers me today,” Gentry said. “I don’t want to get a history lesson when I walk into the state capitol. I don’t need that.”

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