Politics & Government

NC House backs proposal for Billy Graham statue at US Capitol

ssharpe@newsobserver.com

The N.C. House voted 71-28 Thursday to put a statue of evangelist Billy Graham in the U.S. Capitol building, replacing Gov. Charles B. Aycock as one of two statues representing North Carolina.

Aycock, who served from 1901 to 1905, has come under fire recently for his white supremacist views. In February, East Carolina University stripped his name from a dormitory, and the N.C. Democratic Party took his name off an annual fundraising dinner in 2011.

In Washington, Aycock has represented North Carolina in the National Statuary Hall Collection since 1932. The state’s other contribution there is a statue of Zebulon Vance, who was a Confederate officer, governor and U.S. senator.

Republican-sponsored bills in both the House and Senate call for putting a Graham statue in Aycock’s place, describing him as someone who “continues to inspire the world with his good works.”

“I honestly believe he is the right person for the position and the right person to represent North Carolina,” said Rep. Charles Jeter, the Mecklenburg County Republican who sponsored the bill.

But several Democrats protested the bill, saying legislators should take time to consider multiple possible replacements for the Aycock statue. Among the names they mentioned: UNC basketball coach Dean Smith, civil rights leader Julius Chambers and former governors Jim Holshouser and Terry Sanford.

“We’re making a decision that will represent North Carolina to the people of the country,” said Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat. “We should give it careful, careful consideration. I think it’s also troubling that we’re putting in someone who is still living.”

House Speaker Tim Moore declined to allow a vote on an amendment to honor Chambers instead, ruling that the proposal was “not germane to the bill.”

New statues at the U.S. Capitol have to be built to certain specifications and be approved by the Joint Committee on the Library, a panel of 10 members of Congress. States can’t submit statues of living people, so Graham, 96, wouldn’t be displayed until after his death.

Jeter said passing the bill now would allow time to solicit private donations, likely made through the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, and commission a sculptor.

Democrats also objected to House Republican leaders bringing the bill to the floor without first holding a committee vote – an unusual move. An effort to send the bill back to a committee was voted down 67-43.

“Clearly we have not treated this bill as we have any other,” House Democratic Leader Larry Hall said. “There have been some suggestions that we have additional time to look at the bill and make any improvements.”

Republicans dismissed the criticism. “This is just a ploy to debate this forever,” House Majority Leader Mike Hager said.

A companion bill in the Senate is currently awaiting a hearing from the Rules Committee.

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