Pingree, King: States should reconsider Confederate statues in the U.S. Capitol

Clockwise from top left, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Sen, Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Two members of Maine’s congressional delegation said this week that southern states should consider replacing statues of Confederate figures in the U.S. Capitol following last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The weekend’s events started as a white nationalist protest against removing a statue of Robert E. Lee, a Confederate general during the American Civil War. On Saturday, a car allegedly driven by a Nazi sympathizer plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one. Two state troopers were also killed in a helicopter crash.

That has fueled more talk of removing more statues of Confederate figures, including 12 in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. Each state gets two statues and those honored are selected by state legislatures. Maine is represented by its first governor, William King, and Hannibal Hamlin, who was Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, announced that he’ll submit a bill to remove the confederate statues. But some Republicans, including President Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage, have said removing statues is an affront to history.

Maine paid a high price fighting for the Union and against slavery in the Civil War: It sent more than 73,000 troops — a higher proportion of the population than any other state — and more than 7,300 died.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said in a statement that Pingree thinks “these symbols are reminders of a shameful time in our nation’s history and do not have a place in our modern political system.”

“It’s incumbent on elected officials from Congress to state houses across the nation to say with one voice: the values of racism and bigotry have no place in the halls of our government,” said Victoria Bonney, Pingree’s spokeswoman.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said while the issue is up to states, “we’re going to have to listen to each other” to prevent another clash like the one in Charlottesville and “if that means re-evaluating how we commemorate the Civil War, then we should.”

The two Republicans in Maine’s congressional delegation were more cautious. Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement that it “makes sense” for states to “consider the history associated with those whom they choose to honor.”

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District said people who aren’t happy with the statues representing their states should contact their member of Congress. He voted last year in favor of a measure that would ban Confederate flags at federal veterans cemeteries, saying the nation must “move on.”

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.