Sarasota resident Edward James III is blasting HD 72 incumbent Ray Pilon regarding his vote in support of maintaining a Confederate statue, becoming the second Democratic challenger to hit a Republican on the issue in as many days.
On Wednesday, Pilon voted in the minority in the Florida House of Representatives regarding a proposal to remove and replace a statue of Confederate Army General Edmund Kirby Smith in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Only 32 members opposed the measure, while 82 supported it.
Each state has two representatives in the National Statuary Hall. The other statue representing Florida is of Dr. John Gorrie, credited with inventing air-conditioning. The House version called for replacing both statues, whereas the Senate version only asked for the removal of Smith’s statue.
Dialogue to replace the statue began last summer, in the wake of the killing of nine blacks in a Charleston, South Carolina historic church by gunman Dylann Roof. A photo surfaced after the murders showing Roof with a Confederate flag, making it clear racism motivated him. In reaction, Governor Nikki Haley ultimately removed the Confederate flag from its State House grounds.
“I was certainly surprised,” James said in a statement issued on Thursday. “Choosing to retain a Confederate General as a symbol of Florida and keep this statute on display in the US Capitol is bad judgment. The citizens of Sarasota deserve better.”
James is a fourth generation Sarasotan. His great‐grandmother, Mary Emma Jones, led the desegregation efforts of Sarasota County public beaches in the 1950s. His father, Dr. Ed James II, helped integrate the Sarasota County public libraries as a young college student.
“It matters how our state is represented. What message does it send when our state representative votes to keep a divisive symbol?” James asked.
In response, Pilon told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that his vote was a “protest” against the Senate for refusing to consider the House version of the bill, which called for both statues to be removed.
“It’s unfortunate my opponent wants to make this a racial issue,” Pilon told the paper. “Since it’s not for me.”
Pilon is the second Republican who opposed the measure in the House to be criticized by his Democratic challenger in as many days.
On Wednesday Rena Frazier, a Democratic candidate in the House 59 race, criticized Brandon Republican Ross Spano for voting against the measure as well.