State lawmaker says Ducey wrong on Confederate monuments

Memorial to Confederate troops located across from the state Capitol.

HOWARD FISCHER/Capitol Media Services

Memorial to Confederate troops located across from the state Capitol.

PHOENIX – Gov. Doug Ducey’s assertions that he has no role in deciding the future of four Confederate monuments on state land appear not to be backed up by statute, according to a key state lawmaker.

House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said any decisions about removing those monuments and memorials likely have to come in the form of legislation, which has to be signed by the governor to take effect. And Mesnard said it’s appropriate to have a “thoughtful’’ conversation about each of the monuments on state property when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

By contrast, Ducey this past week made the pronouncement he does not favor removal of any of the monuments.

“I don’t think we should try to hide our history,’’ the governor said, including one within view of his office window at the Capitol that was not erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy until 1961, a century after the Civil War and nearly 50 years after Arizona became a state.

Governors in several other states have already moved to take down some of these statues even before the violence at the white supremacist demonstration in Virginia.

Ducey, however, is seeking to distance himself from the debate, saying if people have concerns they should approach the Legislative Governmental Mall Commission, which has purview over the park across from the state Capitol where one of the monuments is located.

But Kevin DeMenna, who chairs that panel, said neither he nor his commission has any authority to actually require that a monument be removed. The decision, he said, ultimately has to come from the Legislature and the governor would would have to sign any measure.

That’s also the way it appears to Mesnard.

“The mall commission’s more of a manager,’’ he said.

Senate President Steve Yarbrough agreed.

“The only way a memorial gets put on the mall or gets removed from the mall is with a bill,’’ he said.

Yarbrough said if someone introduces legislation in January to get rid of any or all of the monuments, he will assign it to one or more committees for a hearing. And if it passes the Senate and House, that puts the question squarely in the governor’s lap.

Ducey, however, wants no part of the controversy.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato cited a law which says the commission can ask to “relocate’’ any monument or memorial. And he contends that includes the ability to “relocate’’ it right off state property.

Even assuming Ducey is correct about who controls the memorial on the mall, that still leaves three others dedicated to remembering the Confederacy that are on state property. But unlike the Capitol mall, they are under the purview of state agencies whose directors all serve at the pleasure of the governor.

But Scarpinato deflected questions about how his boss thinks the public could weigh in about having those monuments removed other than petitioning Ducey himself, the situation the governor is trying to avoid.

“I have no answer for you on that,’’ he said.