Silent Sam's Conquerors Ignore Realities of the Legislature
Though Chancellor Carol Folt publicly supported Silent Sam’s removal from UNC’s campus, even she was disappointed with its violent removal. The Chancellor acknowledged that the “monument has been divisive for years,” but called the protests “unlawful and dangerous.” Folt and the North Carolina General Assembly may have opposing views of Silent Sam, but both understand its forceful removal will ultimately be futile. Protestors clearly missed that point, as they upset Republicans in the General Assembly in a heated election season, driving further away any chances at a potential compromise over the statue.
When Governor Pat McCrory signed legislation in 2015 that handed control of Confederate monuments over to the General Assembly, North Carolina Republicans made clear their belief that the objects are vital to the state’s history.
Phil Berger, the state senate’s President Pro Tempore, and Tim Moore, Speaker of the House, quickly condemned Silent Sam’s violent takedown. Berger called those who took down the figure “violent mobs,” while Moore said it should be made “clear that mob rule and acts of violence will not be tolerated in our state.” Neither suggested Sam should have been removed.
Moreover, the current relationship between Governor Cooper and Republicans in the legislative branch is tattered. Consider the lawsuits between the General Assembly and the Governor stemming from proposed amendments to the state constitution. One of the proposed changes would replace Cooper’s appointment power to state courts with a merit-based system, while another would limit his authority to appoint individuals to the Board of Elections. On top of that, another amendment would implement controversial voter ID laws, which have seen frequent criticism from state Democrats and which were shot down by the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2016.
Simply stated, the General Assembly and Governor Cooper are entrenched in a fierce battle. The General Assembly barely batted an eye when five former North Carolina governors, including Republicans Pat McCrory and Jim Hunt, opposed the two amendments that take away the governor’s power. Democrats’ cries about Silent Sam, particularly after the statue’s forceful removal, will be no different. Neither Governor Cooper nor the General Assembly wants to budge.
Still, there are much more important partisan issues at stake in November, such as the constitutional amendments. I would be shocked if the General Assembly went against their previous stance on Silent Sam, one far less critical than the proposed changes to the state constitution. Confederate memorials are far overshadowed by other issues on the docket this November, and yet they’re politicized in full force by the two parties’ platforms.
While the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees have resolved to decide on the fate of the monument themselves, the aforementioned 2015 law means that the General Assembly still has the opportunity to intervene. If that happens, the opposition’s only viable option is to vote out the Republican majority in both houses of the General Assembly. Therefore, Silent Sam’s removal hinges largely on the success of the Democratic party in North Carolina. Only a substantial, unlikely swing in the General Assembly this November could render Silent Sam’s absence permanent.