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Bill filed to replace Confederate general statue at U.S. Capitol

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A Miami-Dade lawmaker introduced legislation on Tuesday to replace the statue of a Confederate Army general at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

If passed, the bill (HB 141) would ask Congress to remove the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and replace it with another “prominent Florida citizen.”

The new statue would be paid for by the Florida Council on Arts and Culture, the bill says.

The bill was filed by state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami Republican who chairs the House Regulatory Affairs Committee. Diaz was not immediately available for comment Tuesday morning.

The move to take down the statue comes after a renewed debate about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

Dylann Roof, the alleged gunman who killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., this June, had photographed himself holding the flag and made clear he was motivated by racism. South Carolina legislators later voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall; the other Floridian there is John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning.

The drumbeat to remove Smith’s statue, commissioned in 1922, has been growing in recent months.

Democratic campaign consultant Steve Schale opined that Smith, among other things, was never really a Floridian. He left the state “as a child, never to return.”

“His life had little impact on the trajectory of our state’s history,” Schale wrote. “… Kirby Smith is as much a Floridian as I am a son of Illinois, a state I left at the age of 10.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa also has agitated against Gen. Smith.

“Leaders such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and many others have made more lasting and positive contributions to our great state,” she said in a statement. “Several states have recently revisited the historical representation of their statues in the Capitol and it is time for Florida to do the same.”

Other states have traded out statues. This year, Arizona replaced John Campbell Greenway described as a war hero and controversial copper-mining executive from the late 1800s-early 1900s – with U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, a 20th century conservative icon.

Goldwater also was the 1964 Republican presidential nominee against Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at [email protected]

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