Senate Republican leader Bart Hester of Cave Springs said Wednesday that he is drafting legislation to replace the two statues the state donated to the U.S. Capitol with figures of more prominent Arkansans.
The statues now there are of the late attorney Uriah M. Rose and the late U.S. Sen. and Gov. James P. Clarke. They were placed there about 100 years ago.
Hester said he filed a shell bill -- meaning it lacked details -- during the 2017 regular session to replace the two statues. He said he had toured the U.S. Capitol and didn't know anything about the people depicted by Arkansas' statues. Hester saw other states with statues of people such as Will Rogers, representing Oklahoma, and Thomas Edison, representing Ohio.
But he said he opted against pushing the bill because he realized there needed to be "a much bigger conversation" about whose statues should represent Arkansas in the U.S. Capitol.
In 1864, Congress passed a law inviting each state to submit up to two bronze or marble statues to be placed in what is now known as Statuary Hall. As the number of states grew, the statues spread to other areas in the U.S. Capitol.
In 1917, the Arkansas Legislature approved a marble statue of Rose, who helped found the Rose Law Firm and the American Bar Association. In 1921, the Arkansas Legislature approved a marble statue of Clarke, who was Arkansas' governor from 1895-97 and a U.S. senator from 1903-16. Clarke is the great-great-grandfather of state Rep. Clarke Tucker, a Democrat from Little Rock who is challenging Republican U.S. Rep. French Hill of Little Rock in the Nov. 6 general election.
"After 100 years, we have recognized somebody long enough," Hester said in an interview.
"There are many good options out there," such as Walmart founder Sam Walton and musician Johnny Cash, he said.
He said he is drafting legislation that would authorize a statue of one of the Little Rock Nine that he hasn't determined and a statue of Adam Brown, a U.S. Navy SEAL who died in combat in Afghanistan in 2010.
"But this isn't something you do without the consultation of all the Legislature," Hester said. "It's a big deal. The last people were there for a hundred years. I don't know if these guys will be there 10 or 12 years or 20 years, but it is certainly time for us to pick some new people."
Hester said his plan for legislation during the 2019 regular session isn't a partisan move against Tucker.
"If you just research those guys a little bit, you'll see why it is probably not best to have them representing the state of Arkansas," Hester said, referring to Clarke and Rose.
Asked to detail the problems with Clarke and Rose, Hester said: "I wouldn't say with both. I would say specifically with James Clarke's positions on race. They were significant and it's part of our state's history, and you can find it easily in the Arkansas archives."
For example, he noted that the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture states that Clarke as the Democratic nominee for governor in 1894 struck at both the Populist and Republican threats by upholding white supremacy as the keystone of the Democratic Party.
According to the encyclopedia, "The people of the South looked to the Democratic Party to preserve the white standards of civilization," Clarke said in his closing speech of the election. He easily defeated his opponents.
"We are living in a world now where I think it is certainly appropriate that we look for different options," Hester said.
Asked about Hester's proposal, Tucker said, "That doesn't have anything to do with this race for Congress."
He said he thought this was a political move.
"It shows how petty politics can be, and that's unfortunate. Politics should be about people," Tucker said.
"Selecting statues for the U.S. Capitol is up the state legislature in each state. Arkansas has two prominent turn of the 20th century men representing the state in the U.S. Capitol. Any decision on a change is up to the legislature," Hill said in a statement.
Sen. Jim Hendren, a Republican from Sulphur Springs, said, "This is not about getting in the middle of French Hill's congressional race.
"This is about a discussion we started before we even knew who was running," he said. The filing period for the race was earlier this year.
He said he was disappointed that Hester didn't push his bill in 2017 because "I think there are better people to represent us today than what we have."
Senate Democratic leader Keith Ingram of West Memphis said, "It seems odd to bring this up at this time with so many pressing issues that are out there."
He said he doesn't recall a push to replace the statues until after Little Rock Republican Stacy Hurst lost to Tucker in a hotly contested state House race in 2014 and Hurst was appointed as the Department of Arkansas Heritage director. He questioned whether Hurst was behind the push.
But Melissa Whitfield, a spokesman for the Department of Arkansas Heritage, said Hurst "is not involved with anything to do with this."
In 2001, then state-Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, proposed legislation to replace Rose's statue with one of Little Rock Nine mentor Daisy Gatson Bates. That bill died in committee. (Gov. Asa Hutchinson is the uncle of Jeremy Hutchinson and Hendren.) In 2013, then-state Reps. Sue Scott, R-Rogers, and Duncan Baird, R-Lowell, each filed legislation to allow new statues. But neither bill was considered.
"I think there have been informal discussions as to what two are the right representatives for the state of Arkansas," Gov. Hutchinson said at a news conference. "Other states change them from time to time. I think it is an interesting conversation, but I have not engaged in that or pushed any particular part of that."
Information for this article was contributed by Hunter Field of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
This statue of James P. Clarke is one of two representing Arkansas in the U.S. Capitol. It is in the visitor center and was donated by the state in 1921. An Arkansas lawmaker says it’s time to update the statues.
Metro on 09/13/2018
Print Headline: Debate renewed on D.C. statues: Which prominent Arkansans should be depicted at U.S. Capitol?