Freedom project in legislative, money limbo

Freedom project in legislative, money limbo
July 20
05:00 2017

Unless the $200,000 Gov. Cooper appropriated the state Freedom Monument project in his proposed, but rejected budget is replaced, the tribute to African-American contributions to North Carolina history may not see the light of day as long as Republicans don’t see it as necessary.

Just this week it was announced that the N.C. African American Heritage Commission was awarded a $148,450 grant from the National Institute of Museum and Library Services to support the commission’s “Green Books’ Oasis Spaces: African American Travel in NC, 1936 – 1966” project.

“The Negro Motorist Green Book” (the “Green Book”) was an annual guidebook for African-American travelers, published from 1936 – 1966, to help them avoid business owners who refused to serve them. The guidebook compiled listings of “oasis spaces,” welcoming hotels, restaurants, auto repair shops, gas stations and other businesses from throughout most of the U.S…,” the NC Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources stated.

According to a commission spokesperson last week, there is no such private funding slated for the Freedom Monument project. GOP leadership won’t answer questions about why they decided not to fund the further planning and design of the monument which was originally supported by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, and had multiple public hearings across the state last year.

That the project was originally conceived and pushed under a Republican governor should make it nonpartisan, observers note.

“The fact that there is a failure to recognize the significant and vital contributions of African Americans to this state should motivate voters who care about these matters to vote a difference in the upcoming elections,” Guilford County Democrat Rep. Amos Quick said.

“We must vote the Republicans out of office.”

Sen. Angela Bryant (D-Nash), chairwoman of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus, maintained that the monument project was still a priority of caucus, though right now, its prospects are slim.

Sen. Bryant did clarify two points made last week, one from her previous email about the commission.

Last week, in a story titled, “Caucus: Senate gutted funding,” Senator Bryant was quoted from an email she sent to this newspaper stating, “While funding for the monument was a priority for the Legislative Black Caucus, we were not successful in securing funding this cycle – instead we were relegated to fighting to continue the staffing for the African American Heritage Commission, which was cut in the Senate Budget, and restored in the House Budget, and the final conference report.”

Subsequent to publishing that statement, Senator Bryant further clarified it in a follow-up email stating, “The Senate did not intentionally gut the Commission – the position was cut because it had been vacant over 18 months and had not been filled.  It is often the case in the budget process that all vacant positions for a certain period of time are scooped up to provide funding for other priorities.  So rather than there being some kind of intentional opposition to this project, it is more the case that the project has been neglected and has not had the consistent leadership and support to keep it on the forefront and we all have to take some ownership of that reality.”

Secondly, regarding the upcoming abbreviated General Assembly sessions coming up in August and September, Republican legislative leaders have indicated that those are designated to specifically address redistricting issues, based on what is ordered from a federal three-judge panel scheduled to hear arguments on July 27 in Winston-Salem.

Thus, the two sessions would properly be referred to as “special sessions” as opposed to the more literal “short sessions.” Technically, the next legislative “short session” is scheduled to begin May-July 2018 to consider budgetary matters as a supplement to the “long session” that just ended two weeks ago when the state budget was crafted and passed.

That does not mean, however, that Republican legislative leaders couldn’t, if they wanted to, reconsider the Freedom Monument appropriation during this August and September sessions. Since they are in control of the legislative agenda and rules, they, “can consider whatever [they] decide,” says Senator Bryant.

Speaking on behalf of Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) and the N.C. Senate Democratic Caucus, Senator Blue’s Chief of Staff Fred Aikens said the Freedom Monument project was not discussed much by them, even though the Legislative Black Caucus touted it as one of their priorities.

And Aikens believes that Senate Republicans wanted to “punish” Senate Democrats for challenging many of their budget priorities.

“Obviously, if it’s a priority for the Legislative Black Caucus, the Senate Caucus will be in sync with them,” Aikens said. “But at the end of the day, [we] don’t have the votes to force the Republicans to do what they don’t want to do.”

Aikens recalled how angry Republicans took budgeted money for schools away from one black Democrat’s district “just to be spiteful” to illustrate their contempt for African-Americans.

“You can rest assured that if there’s anything that Democrats are going to propose, Republican’s aren’t going to be in favor of it, especially when it comes to African-American issues,” Aikens added, saying that the $5 million funding for the $65 million Civil War Center in Fayetteville by Republicans, versus zero funding – what could have been $200,000 – for the Freedom Monument is “racial and political.”

“[Republicans] don’t have anybody up there that looks like us, so they’re not sensitive to those issues,” Aikens said, later saying, “It’s just an effort to just punish folks.”

Aikens said Minority Leader Blue and the Senate Democratic Caucus will speak to Senate Republican leaders about funding for the Freedom Monument, but, “…I’m not sure, unless the governor puts it back in his budget [proposal] that we’ll get resolution of that until the next time around.”

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Cash Michaels

Cash Michaels

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