MLK, Robert E. Lee Bill Goes Down In Committee

by Michael Wilkey ( 14 views 

A bill that would seek to eliminate a dual status for a state holiday fell short in committee Wednesday.

The House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee voted against a bill by voice vote Wednesday that would seek to eliminate a dual status for a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, sponsored House Bill 1113 after media reports of a sign posted at the state Capitol and state offices noted that state offices would be closed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert E. Lee.

The bill was amended Monday to address issues with the bill on both sides, Bell said Tuesday.

The amendment would have removed a state holiday honoring Confederate president Jefferson Davis on June 3 and would instead create a “Patrick Cleburne-Robert E. Lee Southern Heritage Day” on Nov. 30.

“The state of Arkansas has a very proud and distinguished southern culture and heritage; and the state should maintain and celebrate its culture and heritage, including its military leaders, while continuing to recognize and celebrate other events and days of state and federal historical significance,” the amended bill from Bell noted. “It is the intent of the General Assembly by the enactment of this act to maintain and celebrate the state southern culture, heritage and military leaders while continuing to honor, observe and celebrate other days and events of state and federal historical significance.”

Rep. Charles Blake, D-North Little Rock, who co-sponsored the bill, said the new bill would have given residents a chance to honor the state’s southern heritage by honoring both King and Lee.

Blake said the current holiday has been a “tool of division and conflict.”

Rep. Eddie Armstrong, D-Little Rock, said he believes the bill “is chasing a non-problem in search of a solution.”

However, Rep. Chris Richey, D-West Helena, said a celebration of Cleburne’s life in Helena each year and other Civil War event bring people to the Mississippi River town.

Richey said the tourism has helped his community economically in recent years.

Several people spoke against the bill.

Former State Rep. Loy Mauch said the current law honors “true Southern heroes”, while Kay Tatum of Little Rock said the current law is a symbol of unity that honors both men’s sacrifice.

Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, a member of the House committee, said she was not able to attend the meeting but would have voted against the bill.

“My philosophy is that you can’t respect one man by disrespecting another man. They only fall on the same day about every 7 years I am told. I would be for finding a way to see that they aren’t celebrated on the same day. That would allow groups to celebrate both days without conflict,” Douglas told The City Wire.

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, is also a member of the House committee and co-sponsored HB 1113. He voted for the bill. Although the bill was defeated, Ballinger said he was not necessarily upset with the result.

“It gave an opportunity for both holidays to have a focus and the attention that each one deserves,” Ballinger said.

However, he found no fault with the argument that having both men celebrated on the same day is a “symbol of unity,” as bill opponents said.

“I can’t argue with that. It seems reasonable as well,” Ballinger told The City Wire.

He also said defeat of the bill would not put Arkansas in a bad light with respect to race relations. He said “rude people” who are always looking to say something “mean and derogatory about our state” will use the vote for their purposes, but that will be a small audience.