historical commission

Historical Commision approves move of Forrest bust from Tennessee Capitol

The state Capitol was closed to visitors on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Historical Commission has approved a petition to move the bust of Confederate cavalry general, slave trader, and early Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol.

Petitions to change historical monuments require two-thirds votes by the commission. Twenty-five members of the panel voted in favor, while Joanne Cullom Moore was the lone commissioner voting against.

The waiver authorizes the move of the Forrest bust, along with those of U.S. Navy Adms. David Farragut and Albert Gleaves, to the Tennessee State Museum.

The speakers of the House and Senate have argued that Gov. Bill Lee’s administration skipped a step following the State Capitol Commission’s recommendation to move the bust because it did not seek concurrence from the State Building Commission.

Vote on removal of Forrest bust delayed due to weather

Thursday was supposed to be the last chance for supporters and opponents of moving the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust out of the state Capitol to make their cases to the Tennessee Historical Commission. But the weather has intervened.

The panel decided to punt the discussion about the former Confederate general, slave trader, and early Ku Klux Klan leader until March 9. The delay could give Attorney General Herbert Slatery more time to decide whether to give a rare public legal opinion on whether Gov. Bill Lee’s administration skipped a step in the extensive process for changing or moving historical monuments.

While many were planning to attend the meeting via teleconference, an administrative law judge presiding over the hearing, attorneys, and witnesses were not able to make it to downtown Nashville due to treacherous road conditions, The Tennessean reported.

Speakers seek rare AG’s opinion on effort to move Forrest bust

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Asking for a legal opinion from the state attorney general used to be a routine procedure. But these days, Herbert Slatery deigns to opine on only a handful of issues — and then only ones that aren’t likely to result in litigation.

So it will be interesting to see what Slatery does in response to a request for a legal opinion from House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) and Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) about whether Gov. Bill Lee is following proper procedure for moving the controversial bust of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, a slave trader and early Ku Klux Klan leader, from the state Capitol.

The Tennessee Historical Commission is scheduled to meet later this week for what is supposed to be the final step in an extensive process required to change historical markers or monuments.

Sexton and McNally argue the Lee administration missed an intermediate step after the State Capitol Commission voted in favor of a petition asking for the move’s approval. The speakers pointed to language in the code requiring the State Building Commission to concur with any action by the Capitol Commission. That did not happen in this case.

Four of the six members of the Building Commission also serve on the Capitol panel, and each of those four voted in favor of moving the bust. But the two who happen not to serve on both commissions are Sexton and McNally.

It’s the latest twist in the Forrest bust saga. When Lee appeared to have the votes on the Capitol Commission to recommend the move last year, lawmakers made an 11th-hour maneuver to add two more House and Senate representatives to the panel in an effort to block it. Lee, who hadn’t been consulted about changing the makeup of the panel, decided to call its next meeting before signing the new law into effect.

In Slatery’s first full year at the helm in 2015, his office issued 81 legal opinions. The output dropped to about 50 each in the following three years, before plummeting to 20 in 2019 and just 17 in 2020.

Capitol Commission won’t vote on Forrest bust at next meeting

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, left, participates in a meeting of the State Funding Board in Nashville on Jan. 21, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A long-awaited meeting of the State Capitol Commission next month won’t decide the fate of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust located outside the House and Senate chambers.

Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter told reporters on Tuesday that he envisions a series of at least two meetings to sound out supporters and opponents of moving the bust of the former slave trader, Confederate general, and early leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Even if the Capitol Commission were to seek a waiver under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act to remove the bust, a lengthy process would ensue. The State Historical Commision must wait at least 60 days to hold an initial hearing once a petition is filed. A final hearing can’t take place until at least 180 days after that. And any determination made by the panel (it would take two-thirds of the members to remove the monument) would have to wait 120 days from the final notice being posted on its website from going into effect.

And of course not of that takes into account any likely court challenges.

In other words, it’s going to be a while. Unless lawmakers decide to jump start the process by filing legislation to bypass the hurdles put in place by the Heritage Protection Act.