House’s $250K Memphis money cut becomes GOP debate topic, inspires fundraising drive

In a debate Wednesday, three Republican candidates for governor said they disagreed with a House vote to cut $250,000 in funding for Memphis because of the city’s removal of Confederate monuments from former city parks. But Diane Black, Randy Boyd and Bill Lee also said they opposed the city’s action, reports the Memphis Daily News. House Speaker Beth Harwell, who missed the debate while presiding over the House in Nashville, voted for the Memphis funding cut.

Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page has been started on Facebook to raise funds to make up the money lost through the House vote, according to a separate News report. As of Thursday morning, $44,765 had been raised toward the $250,000 goal.

Both the House and Senate have now approved separate versions of a $37.5 billion state budget for the coming year. Neither has the money for Memphis’s bicentennial celebration that was included in the House version before Tuesday’s vote. There are some differences in the two versions, however, that must be resolved before the bill goes to Gov. Bill Haslam.

From the debate story:


“I don’t think it’s right to punish Memphis for that decision. If they want to change the law then they need to close that loophole,” said Black of the legislature. She is a former state Rep. and currently a U.S. Rep. “I think that we have to be very careful about removing monuments because it removes a piece of our history. Our history teaches us. Our history actually unites us more than it does divide us.”

Lee, a Franklin businessman, described the state’s history as “rich, deep complicated.”

“I don’t think Memphis did the right thing,” he said. “I don’t think that removing historical monuments is the right approach to solving the problem.”

He also said the difference over the monuments and their removal between city leaders and the Legislature should have been resolved and point to the “real need for leadership.”

Boyd also equated the monuments removed that praised Confederacy president Jefferson Davis and Confederate general, slave trader and Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest with history.

“We need to preserve our history. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad. But we always learn from it,” said the former Tennessee commissioner of economic and community development. “Each generation decides to remove a part of history they disagree with, we won’t have a history.”

But Boyd added, “I don’t think it’s right to punish the city of Memphis.” He said it was ironic that the House voted to cut funding for the city’s observance of its bicentennial, which would be an observance of the city’s history.

From the GoFundMe story:

The GoFundMe page was started by University of Memphis graduate Brittney Block…. The page says the money, which was to be used for Memphis’ bicentennial celebration, can be made up if 25,000 people will donate just $10 each. It includes comments from a couple of donors, like these: “Happy to help my hometown;” “This city, man. I love it;” and “Use the money to tear down more Confederate statues.”

The (budget cut) amendment’s sponsor, Rep. Matthew Hill, a Republican from East Tennessee, pointed out cities and counties across the state will be holding community celebrations without state tax dollars.

The amendment upset members of the Shelby County delegation, including Memphis Democratic Rep. Karen Camper, who said she worked “diligently” with leadership to put the money in the budget. She pointed out removing the money would punish all of Memphis and Shelby County, not just the City Council.

Rep. Raumesh Akbari, another Memphis Democrat, spoke even more pointedly.

“The amendment and the explanation is hateful, unkind, un-Christian-like and unfair,” Akbari said, adding she is sick of the Legislature treating Memphis as if it weren’t part of Tennessee.

Akbari, who is running for a state Senate seat this year, told House members she didn’t realize how much members of the Legislature disliked the city of Memphis until she won election to the House.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson called the move “the most vile, racist” thing he’s seen on the House floor, eliciting boos from the chamber.

The Memphis Democrat, an outspoken proponent of removing a Forrest bust from the State Capitol and the Forrest monument in Memphis because of the Confederate general’s history as a slave trader, continued, saying, “What makes me more sick is how this body reveres Nathan Bedford Forrest as if he was a god.”

However, members such as Rep. Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican who grew up in Memphis, argued that Memphis broke the spirit of state law in the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act by removing the monuments.

“They got some smart lawyers to figure out how to wiggle around the law,” McCormick said.

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