Baxley’s power play at Olustee
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
It’s been a century and a half since the Confederate Army clashed with Union troops in a bloody, five-hour battle at Olustee. The battle claimed 2,800 soldiers — twice as many in blue as in gray — and ended with the defeated Union troops retreating to Jacksonville. It was the largest Civil War battle on Florida soil and a decisive victory for the South. After that day, Feb. 20, 1864, Northern troops never ventured into Florida’s interior again.
North Floridians have never forgotten the Battle of Olustee or the glory it brought to our state and the Confederacy. In fact, Lake City, located 15 miles west of Olustee, holds an annual week-long festival in remembrance, and the hallowed ground where the bloodshed occurred eventually became Florida’s first state park, the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park.
Now comes the Sons of Union Veterans seeking to erect a monument honoring Union soldiers who died in the battle. The proposal, with initial support from the Florida Parks Service, has been met with outrage from descendants of Confederate soldiers and area residents.
The Union monument proposal is also opposed by state Rep. Dennis Baxley, never one to shy away from the political spotlight or grandstand.
Even though the controversy is taking place 100 miles from Baxley’s Ocala district, the fifth-generation Floridian and member of the Sons of the Confederacy has injected himself and, more importantly, his power to legislate into the fracas. Calling the Sons of Union Veterans’ effort “revisionist history” — even though Union troops also fought on the Olustee battlefield — Baxley has threatened parks officials with the full weight of the Florida Legislature if they do not alter the plan to place the Union monument among the three existing monuments to fallen Confederate soldiers in the park.
Specifically, Baxley says he will introduce legislation that would require any new monuments in state parks to be approved first by the full Legislature.
Talk about overreach. We understand Baxley’s loyalty to his Southern heritage. We also understand that when it was established as a state park, Olustee was seen — and still is — as hallowed Confederate ground.
But the Legislature surely has enough on its plate that it does not need to be approving every monument proposed for its 161 state parks. Surely the House and Senate, and Baxley in particular, could better use their time addressing the needs of the state’s schools and colleges, raising Floridians’ standard of living, confronting the water crisis, fixing the property insurance mess, cleaning up our lakes, rivers and springs … the list goes on.
The Florida Parks Service surely can arrive at a amicable solution that will assuage all concerned with the great Olustee monument debate without the Legislature having to get involved.
Could it be that Baxley, who reportedly has designs on Charlie Dean’s Senate seat, is trying to get his name out in that end of District 5? Fine, we understand the politics of that, too.
But grandstanding by threatening to throw the full weight of the Legislature at a not-so-monumental problem is not the answer to the Olustee controversy.
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