This past week, Arkansas has begun an uncomfortable, but healthy discussion. As increased attention to the 30-year old law combining the day celebrating the lives of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert E. Lee, more people are speaking up for changing this practice.
Today, you can add the newly-elected Republican Governor, Asa Hutchinson, to this list.
“The history and contributions of both Dr. Martin Luther King and Gen. Robert E. Lee should be remembered,” Hutchinson tells The Tolbert Report. “Dr. King’s birthday is appropriately set aside and honored as a national holiday. As to Arkansas, I would prefer that the days of remembrance be separated for the two men. I am focused on getting my middle class tax cut passed along with other items of my jobs agenda. I will leave any proposed bills in this regard to the General Assembly.”
Although stopping short of calling for a complete end of Robert E. Lee Day, the governor recognizes the need to separate the days. Hopefully, his support will help those pushing for the change in the state legislature. Rep. Nate Bell of Mena (HB1113) and Rep. Fred Love of Little Rock (HB1119) have both filed bills that would make the third Monday in January solely focused on Martin Luther King, Jr.
The two bills are currently in the House State Agencies Committee and are likely to run this coming Wednesday. Since Bell chairs this committee, I would say it has a good chance of passing out of committee and making it to the House floor. Although it seems some legislators would like this issue to quietly go away, I think they will be hard-pressed not to vote for it when the roll is called.
The Senate might be a different story. Often that chamber is where controversial bills die a quiet death. It will be up to public pressure to keep this bill moving if it makes it to that step.
But the support of Gov. Hutchinson is certainly a big boost.