State Sen. Ward on Confederate monument controversy: ‘You can’t let mob rule dictate any of the policy, one way or another’
Given the subject matter related to the nationwide protests and demonstrations underway in the name George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police, it was inevitable that the controversial subject of Confederate monuments in Alabama was to be raised.
In 2017, the Alabama legislature passed a law requiring local governments to obtain permission from the state before moving or renaming buildings and monuments older than 40 years.
During an interview with Huntsville radio’s WVNN, State Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster) weighed in on the law, which is under scrutiny as the city of Birmingham has acted in violation of the law and removed a monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers and sailors that was on display in the city’s Linn Park.
“It’s a civil penalty, not a criminal — so in other words, you can’t hold a city liable for a crime but you can penalize them for civil means,” he said. “My interpretation of the law sponsored by Sen. Gerald Allen, and was voted on pretty overwhelmingly by the House and the Senate, is that it is a $25,000 fine to remove historical monument — and I think there is a period of time back it had to be constructed. Anything before 1968 or 1970 … it is considered a historical monument. Therefore, in order to remove it, you had to appeal to this executive commission set up and appointed by the governor.”
“Birmingham can pay the $25,000 fine,” Ward explained. “They have the means to do that. I think a lot of your smaller cities that $25,000 penalty would be considered a pretty hefty fine for some of these local city budgets, smaller towns.”
Ward said there has been a movement in the past to strengthen the law by enhancing the penalties for violations, but maintains the law is still a civil statute and not a criminal statute.
“You can’t make it criminal, but you could look at civil penalties if you want to enhance the civil penalties,” he added. “I believe Senator Allen has said he wants to look at increasing somehow some of those penalties. If you’re going to change the law in order to strengthen it — that’s how you would do it. At the same time, before we get too bogged down in the whole debate on monuments, we also got a lot of other issues we need to deal with, as well.”
The Shelby County Republican lawmaker warned against the terms of the law being altered as a reaction to “mob rule,” which could threaten the system of government if allowed.
“You can’t let mob rule dictate any of the policy, one way or another,” Ward said. “You’re for or against the monuments, in my opinion. If you start doing that, you’re throwing your whole republican form of government out the window. I mean, the idea is we have laws. Change the laws if you don’t like the monument law, change the law. Make it stronger or make it weaker. But if we start saying, ‘Well, we got some people that are starting to riot. We’ve got to ignore or change some of the laws on the books to adapt to that. I think that’s a very dangerous precedent.”
What could happen going forward with the Alabama Monuments Preservation Act is uncertain, according to Ward. However, he said he expects there to be a continued debate between now and the lead-up to the 2021 legislative session.
“I don’t know there’s an appetite to do that,” he said. “There’s a couple on the Democratic side of the aisle who want it reversed. I know Senator Allen on the Republican side has spoken about increasing, making it stronger. We can’t go back into regular session until February 2021. I’m sure there will be a lot of debate between now and then as to what happens with this particular law.”
@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly and host of Huntsville’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN.