If approved, the bill would give the park advisory board final say about memorials.
By BEN WELSH
February 3, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY — Dixie may fly again.
A government board would be given the power to restore the Confederate battle flag to two Missouri memorials under a bill reviewed at a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Confederate flags were lowered from state parks in Pilot Knob and Higginsville in January 2003. They were ordered down by former Gov. Bob Holden’s press secretary, Mary Still, after Missouri Democrat Richard Gephardt was embroiled in a controversy over the flags during his failed presidential campaign.
The Senate agriculture committee heard a proposal by Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, that would give control over state memorials to the Missouri State Park Advisory Board, an eight-member panel appointed by the governor. The panel would have to approve future changes to any memorial — including flags and any monuments that bear the Ten Commandments.
Currently, Gov. Matt Blunt has the power to order the flags raised. So far, he has not elected to do so. Paul Sloca, a spokesman for the Republican governor, said he would not comment on the bill until Blunt’s office had reviewed it more closely.
Sloca said he did not know the governor’s position on Confederate flags, but that “the governor is going to follow this issue closely.”
Ed Stegner, a member of the current board, said although he could only speak for himself, he felt confident that the board would vote to return the flags, if given the opportunity.
“I know one board member who would do it,” Stegner said. “(The flag) has nothing to do with racism. That has to do with history. Those soldiers fought for what they thought was right. I don’t agree with them, but they believed it’s right and it’s history.”
However, the makeup of the board may change if Blunt signs the bill into law. The legislation requires that at least two members reside in counties which contain a “historic site of significant military history.” The bill still needs to make it through committee and win approval from both chambers of the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
The proposed legislation also contains a clause that would require an annual inspection of each memorial in the state. Senators at the hearing expressed interest in removing the clause to avoid its costs.
Autry Brick, the curator at the Fort Davidson Memorial in Higginsville, where the Confederate flag once flew, said he’d like to see it fly again, but he wasn’t celebrating just yet.
“We’re just kind of waiting to see,” Brick said. “We do what we’re told.”