Meanwhile, Back in Virginia, Monuments Issue Careens Into Election Campaign

by D.J. McGuire

While the rest of the nation places the Charlottesville Incident in its collective memory, it continues to impact election campaigns here in Virginia. Elections for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and members of the House of Delegates are in less than three months, and it is in the AG race that the issue of Rebel monuments has been steered into absurdity by unjustified Republican outrage.

It all began this afternoon when the incumbent AG running for re-election (Democrat Mark Herring), was asked to weigh in on Virginia law governing what localities can do with Rebel monuments. Until this point, the assumption was that Virginia law effectively banned any locality’s attempt to move or destroy them. Herring’s review of the law (which be be found here) reveals a far more complicated picture, made even more so by Virginia’s unique practice of granting autonomous powers to “independent cities” – which by law are not part of any county.

It took less than a day for the Republican electoral machine to go into high dudgeon, led by Herring’s opponent, who claimed the AG was contradicting himself from two years ago. By this morning, Shaun Kenney – arguably the dean of center-right political blogging in the Commonwealth – went so far as to proclaim Herring had brought forth “a tyranny of a priesthood whose mantra is ‘you just don’t understand the law.'”

It pains me to disagree with Shaun – a longtime friend from my days in the Republican Party of Virginia – but the fact that his post includes a link to Herring’s supposedly different opinion of two years ago but not one to yesterday is telling, and not in a good way.

First off, contrary to what the entire RPV seems to be parroting this weekend, Herring’s 2015 decision (here) addresses the fate of historical building markers, not monuments. That Herring would state the law in question covers monuments is no surprise. That he did not specifically answer how monuments are covered in 2015 should also not be a shock – as that wasn’t the question he was asked. This week, he was asked specifically about monuments, and thus gave a more detailed answer on the subject.

I would humbly submit that Herring’s opponent’s obliviousness to this context should be noted by every Virginian voting this November.

Moreover, if Herring really was looking to give localities in Virginia carte blanche to remove Rebel monuments, he sure hid it well. The actual opinion makes clear that localities first need to ponder (1) when the monument was built, (2) who was responsible for building it, and (3) if any law specifically addresses it beyond the much-argued statute in question before even thinking about calling a moving van. If anything, Herring’s more thorough examination of the law points to a need for a more uniform treatment by the General Assembly – perhaps by adopting the position taken by both major party candidates for Governor, who in theory want localities to have full authority over what to do with the Rebel monuments.

Yet even the agreement between Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie is more in principle than in practice, as can be seen from this Washington Post story – in which Gillespie himself prefers to defend the monuments rather than explaining his own position on allowing localities to remove them – a telltale sign he would likely expend no effort to get the legislature to enact said position.

So, in the end, despite every Republican assertion that this is not about “the monuments”, it is about the monuments. That the RPV would expend so much political capital to protect “historical” monuments erected to symbolize resistance to the anti-Supremacist Republicans of the past is yet another reason why I now identify as a conservative Democrat.

D.J. McGuire is the conservative Democrat on the More Perfect Union podcast – and sometimes feels like he is the lone conservative Democrat in the country.

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