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Kelso Tanner reacts to ‘outrageous’ comments made by Ione Townsend regarding Confederate monument vote

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Days after four of the five Republican members of the Hillsborough County Commission voted to keep a Confederate monument in front of the county courthouse, the controversy isn’t dissipating.

Last Friday afternoon, Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Ione Townsend issued a blistering statement against the Republican commissioners for their vote, calling it “a continuation of white supremacy and white privilege policies.”

Those remarks are now being rebuked by Kelso Tanner, a Hillsborough GOP political consultant and school board candidate, who calls her remarks “incredibly misleading, outrageous, and divisive.”

“The truth is the Ione Townsends of the world don’t care about the elimination of public images or groups that once stood for slavery, oppression, and Jim Crow,” Tanner said in a statement. “If they did, they would not be a member of the very party that encompassed all those things when it mattered most. Clearly, they have forgiven the Democratic party for committing the atrocities that they now claim to care so much about. Don’t be fooled by this latest round of crocodile tears over confederate statues. The real reason for this feigned outrage is increasing turnout in next year’s election. “

The monument, called “Memoria In Aeterna,” depicts two Civil War soldiers next to an obelisk and was built by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, where it has stood in front of the county courthouse since 1911.

Before last week’s vote, County Commissioner Pat Kemp read aloud a portion of State Attorney Herbert S. Phillips’ keynote speech when the monument was dedicated, in which Phillips said that, “The South stands ready to welcome all good citizens who seek to make their homes within her borders. But the South detests and despises all, it matters not from whence they came, who, in any manner, encourages social equality with an ignorant and inferior race.”

Tanner’s argument that the Democrats were the party of white southerners during the Civil War era who supported slavery is something that other Hillsborough Republicans are in response to the criticism.

“They need to go back and take a look at themselves, take a look at their failed policy, take a look at their failed politicians who were the ones who actually uttered the racist comments to begin with, and reconsider these comments,” Victor Crist said on Friday. Crist was one of the four Republicans who voted to maintain the monument.

In voting to keep the monument in place, the BOCC also voted to support a proposal offered by Crist to have a 75 foot long wall built behind the monument that will showcase the diversity of America, to be called “United We Stand.”

Tanner also takes exception to Townsend’s referral to white privilege, calling it a “slap in the face to millions of hard working Americans in this country.”

“No one is handed success on a silver platter. America is the land of equal opportunity for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever group Ione chooses to marginalize tomorrow,” he says, adding that “(w)e can’t control how we start the circle of life but we can certainly control how we live and end it regardless of who we are or what our background is. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

Townsend was not immediately available for comment.

The current composition of the Hillsborough County Commission is made up of 5 Republicans and 2 Democrats. All four who voted to keep the monument are on the ballot in 2018, while the fifth Republican, Al Higginbotham, is not running next year. He joined Democrats Kemp and Les Miller  in supporting the idea of moving the monument.

Tanner recently announced his candidacy for the District 6 seat on the Hillsborough County School board next year, a seat currently held by April Griffin. Three other candidates have also entered that race: Jessica Vaughn, William Person and Randy Toler.

Griffin has said she won’t decide on whether or not she’ll run for reelection until next January.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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