After the tragedy in Charleston last summer, there were renewed calls across the South to break with our divisive past and remove endorsements of the Confederacy from shared, public space. Gov. Haslam broke with some members of his own party and joined leaders like Nikki Haley who are working toward a more inclusive future, when he said of Forrest, "That would not be one of the Tennesseans I would honor."
Unfortunately, in terms of tolerance, there are troubling signs that things may get more worse before they get better. In our legislature, diversity efforts at our public colleges and universities are under attack. The Tennessee Economic Council on Women may soon cease to exist. And nationally, this presidential election has been chock-full of divisiveness, with Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate, running in part on a platform of racial tension and hate.
Gov. Haslam has once again shown leadership this very week by making the case for why he won't support Trump if he becomes the Republican nominee.
These statements are commendable and are a signal that our governor rightly understands that Tennessee is a diverse state and the importance of tolerance. I hope his leadership continues with respect to the recently approved so-called Heritage Protection Act. After the Charleston attack and the Trump platform, the timing of the HPA could not have been more inopportune.
The governor should veto this bill. It makes permanent our highest honors for Nathan Bedford Forrest. Although the governor is not in charge of the legislative branch, what he thinks and says matters a great deal.
If he were to oppose the HPA, it would send a positive signal to Tennesseans about the importance of tolerance. Although I understand that the legislature could overturn his veto, his actions and his leadership are still important.
It doesn’t matter whether the governor’s veto stands or not. The governor’s opposition to the HPA would be an important reminder to Tennesseans about the importance of tolerance in an election year when it’s sorely needed.
State Senator Lee Harris (D-Memphis) 29th District