Armed with the results of a new poll they say shows overwhelming support for their side of the issue, a group of veterans held a news conference in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse Annex in Tampa today warning members of the County Commission to resist any temptation to reverse their vote to keeping a controversial Confederate monument in front off the building.
“Both the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, oppose any removal of the monument, because that shows an utter disrespect of one segment of American veterans,” said David McCallister with Save Southern Heritage Florida.
“If the commission felt a backlash in overwhelming support for keeping the memorial leading up to their decision, they need to consider what kind of backlash will come if they cave in to the bullying tactics of Black Lives Matter and the Uhuru movement, and take down any monuments to any of our veterans,” added Lunelle McCallister, chair of monuments for the Florida division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
The press conference came a day after Victor Crist confirmed that he is now prepared to vote to move the monument to a new location.
The board voted last month 4-3 to keep the monument that has sat outside the Hillsborough County courthouse (now annex) since 1911, with Crist being one of those four supporting keeping the monument in place.
“Our board has a very difficult decision to make,” Crist said on WMNF 88.5-FM’s MidPoint show Thursday. “It’s realistic to say we are going to move this because there are too many people who see pain and suffering when they look at this … but I think the board is looking for a site to move it to.”
The proposal to remove the monument came from Commissioner Les Miller, the only African-American on the board. He was joined in that call by fellow Democrat Pat Kemp and Republican Al Higginbotham last month.
The veterans groups say that they have the majority of the public on their side, citing a new robopoll conducted on their behalf by Orlando based pollster Gravis Marketing of 372 individuals in Hillsborough County that was paid for by Save Southern Heritage Florida.
The poll said that 78 support the Confederate monument staying in place, with only 22 percent wanting it moved.
On whether the public would support a measure to ensure that such Confederate monuments could not be removed in the future, 88 percent support that notion, and only 12 percent oppose it.
All four Republican commissioner who voted to maintain the monument in its current space are up for reelection next year. And while angry Democrats vow to use this as a campaign issue against them, the survey indicates that those lawmakers felt confident that they might not be hurt with that vote. The survey found by a 81%-19% margin, those polled would generally support a commissioner who voted to keep the monument where it is and establish a Veterans War Memorial protection act.
The man who conducted this poll and a previous one for the group that also showed support for maintaining the monument, Doug Kaplan, was not immediately available for comment on Friday. He previously said that an earlier poll he conducted for the group was not a scientific survey.
Supporters of the Confederate monument decried the trend of war memorials being vandalized in recent months.
A war memorial in Aurora, Colorado was defaced right before the Fourth of July weekend, noted St. Petersburg attorney Andy Strickland.
“Are we going to let the sacrifice of our fellow American soldiers go in vain? ” he said. “These statues mean something.”
Meanwhile, citizens who want to see the monument removed will be holding their own press conference in front of the monument on Monday at 6 p.m.
Crist himself will not be at next Wednesday’s BOCC meeting, when the commission is scheduled to take another vote on the matter. At this time it is unknown if the board will now take that vote.