Va. gov candidate Gillespie backs petition to keep Confederate statues

Va. gov candidate Gillespie backs petition to keep Confederate statues
© Greg Nash

Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, is backing a petition that opposes the removal of Virginia's Confederate statues and monuments. 

In an email to supporters Tuesday, Gillespie cast efforts to remove Confederate statues from public land as an attempt to erase history.

"My opponent, Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam has promised to do everything he can to remove Virginia's Confederate monuments and statues if he is elected governor," Gillespie said in the email, referring to Democratic nominee Ralph Northam.

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"I think we should keep them up," he added. "We should teach history — NOT erase it."

Gillespie's support for the petition comes weeks after violence erupted at a rally organized by white nationalists to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va., where one woman was killed and many others were injured when a car was driven into a crowd of counterprotesters.

Both Gillespie and Northam have said that the decision to keep or remove Confederate statues should be made at the local level

But Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has said that he ultimately opposes removing the statues, while Northam has advocated for taking them down.

Earlier this year, Gillespie fended off claims by his primary opponent — who made support for Confederate monuments a centerpiece of his campaign — that he wanted to remove the statues. 

A century-old Virginia state law bars local governments from taking down or interfering with monuments or memorials dedicated to veterans of war, though some state lawmakers support changing that law to give more power to local jurisdictions.

In a statement to The Hill, Dave Abrams, a spokesman for Gillespie’s campaign, said that, if elected, Gillespie would ensure that statues and monuments under the state’s control would remain up while being placed in the proper historical context.

Local jurisdictions would be free to choose for themselves whether to leave the statues standing, Abrams said.

“Ralph Northam has said he will do everything in his power to take down statues that are under the control of our state government, like the Jackson Statue at [Virginia Military Institute] and the Lee Statue in Richmond,” he said. “As governor, Ed would not take those statues down, and believes they should be placed in historical context.”

“He feels the same about statues in our cities and counties, but believes those decisions are best made at the local level. Further, while Ralph Northam wants to use our limited tax dollars to take down monuments, at a cost of millions, Ed believes those resources would be much better spent on improving our schools, rewarding our hard working teachers and police officers, and building new roads. It’s a matter of priorities.”