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Sean Shaw: Commissioners supporting Confederate monument not OK

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

After the Hillsborough County Commission initially voted last month to keep the Confederate statue in front of the county courthouse annex, Hillsborough Democrats vowed to take revenge at the ballot box next year against all four Republicans who resisted the call to move the monument.

Stacy White, Victor Crist, Sandy Murman and Ken Hagan are each running in 2018 for four-year terms. White is seeking re-election in District 4, the eastern Hillsborough County seat considered to be the most conservative district in the county. Hagan is running in District 2, the North County seat he held from 2002-2010 and already has accumulated a massive financial war chest. Both may be hard to beat.

Murman and Crist, on the other hand, intend to run countywide, where they could be vulnerable against a strong Democratic opponent.

In the wake of the board reversing their decision on the monument this week after Murman changed her vote (with an absent Crist saying he would have done the same if he was present), the anger that exploded in some of the most progressive precincts in the county after the initial vote hasn’t dissipated.

“I don’t care if you flipped your vote or not; if you voted for the Confederate statue once? That’s enough for me,” Tampa state Rep. Sean Shaw told a group of about 40 people who attended a town hall meeting in East Tampa Wednesday night.

Speaking to a mostly all-black audience at St. John Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, Shaw said the fact that White, Hagan, Murman and Crist all felt confident enough to vote the way they did in a county with nearly 18 percent African-American population is a statement he says about how they really aren’t concerned about the black vote.

“That was a reflection of us, ” Shaw said, “’cause if you think as an elected official that’s about to be on the ballot you can vote to keep a Confederate statue and feel comfortable about your re-election? That’s our fault because they shouldn’t feel comfortable to do that, and so we need to make sure that we are pressing those elected officials who represent you.”

The son of Florida’s first African-American Chief Supreme Court Justice and a graduate of Princeton, Shaw has been regularly holding town hall meetings in the district after serving his first term in office representing House District 61. It would not be OK for these same politicians who voted against the interests of most who live in East Tampa to then come around next year and make nice on the campaign trail, he said.

“Don’t come to our church,” Shaw said. “Don’t come to our community. Don’t come to our fish fry. Don’t come to a backpack drive in this community if you think it’s OK to have a Confederate statue right next to a courthouse, I’m just telling you. It was an insult. I was personally insulted by that, and not much in politics makes me personally upset, that did.”

In initially voting to maintain the monument, Crist attempted to come up with a solution that would satisfy the warring sides by proposing that a mural celebrating the county’s diversity be placed behind the memorial, named “Memoria In Aeterna” dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to the county in 1911. Although that was included in the original vote, it never seemed to generate much support.

In her original vote to support the monument, Murman was able to insert an amendment providing for 250,000 to set up a curriculum teaching what she called “history and respect” of others in Hillsborough County schools.

Both of those provisions were removed during this week’s vote.

Murman said that the only reason she had voted to keep the monument was that she was concerned about spending taxpayer funds. Now that a private fundraising campaign is underway to pay for the costs of removing the statue, she said she could now feel good about voting to remove the monument. What was not addressed: How that logic worked when Murman also called for $250,000 in taxpayer funds for education about racism last month.

Shaw says it’s too bad that commissioners who supported the monument don’t understand that it’s “racism in concrete.”

“They shouldn’t be comfortable making that vote,” he said. “We need to make it uncomfortable for them. And don’t let them come into our communities and think that it’s OK to come into our church and come to our events after taking that kind of stand. It’s not OK.”

Also at the meeting were Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick, Hillsborough County School Board member Tamara Shamburger, and later, Pinellas state Rep. Wengay Newton.

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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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