McKinley Statue Debate Making the Media Rounds

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Now everybody seems to be talking about McKinley. - FILE
  • File
  • Now everybody seems to be talking about McKinley.
The pending removal of President William McKinley’s statue from the Arcata Plaza was thrust in the national spotlight this week after a Los Angeles Times story placed the council’s decision at the forefront of a growing push to take down symbols seen as celebrating the systematic atrocities committed against Native peoples.

The article published Sunday describes McKinley as “the most significant casualty in an emerging movement to remove monuments honoring people who helped lead what Native groups describe as a centuries-long war against their very existence.”

Soon the story was off and running on the conservative media circuit with Fox and Friends talking Tuesday with David LaRue — an Arcata resident working to place the bronze work’s future on the November ballot — who told the hosts he was against removing the statue and has “heard no convincing arguments on why this should happen.”

A screenshot of Pitino on Tucker Carlson's show.
  • A screenshot of Pitino on Tucker Carlson's show.
Councilman Paul Pitino, meanwhile, engaged the same network’s Tucker Carlson in a lively exchange, defending his vote as correcting a “112-year-old error in judgement.”

Carlson did appear taken aback when he found himself acknowledging Pitino’s stance that there shouldn’t be tributes to any humans.

“Well I disagree with you but I do think you make a good point about not worshiping people,” Carlson told Pitino before signing off.

Even Karl Rove — President George W. Bush’s onetime chief of staff who authored The Triumph of William McKinley: Why the Election of 1896 Still Matters — chimed in during a Monday spot on Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade’s show.

During the discussion, Rove described McKinley as a “man who’s of exemplary character” after describing how the 25th president enlisted in the Union Army at the age of 18 and rose through the ranks in recognition of his battleground valor.

Rove also said he was a “committed abolitionist” who fought for black equality. “So, what’s their beef with him?” he asked the host.

When Kilmeade mentions McKinley’s support of the Curtis Act, which resulted in the downfall of tribal governance in what would become Oklahoma, Rove says he’s not hearing calls for statues to come down from that state.

“To judge, by today’s standards of a highly political group, the actions of people 120 years ago is simply reprehensible,” he said, going on to describe that there were tribes that forcibly took land from other tribes.

Kilmeade called for his listeners to get involved against the actions taking place “in a small town in a liberal area of Northern California.”

“I think it’s a really bad sign,” he said. “This could be the beginning of taking down more than one president, it’s not stopping with McKinley.”

After Kilmeade asked Rove if he’s planning to get involved, the Republican political consultant and media contributor said to “watch what’s in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.”

In the wake of the Fox News coverage, the McKinley statue removal debate has also gotten a lot of attention from conservative blogs across the nation.

While the Arcata council’s Feb. 21 decision is just now landing in the larger public spotlight, local media has been covering the issue for months — if not years — as the community has been ruminating over whether to remove McKinley on and off going back decades.

But the latest push gained momentum in the wake of cities across the nation taking down Confederate statues, especially following the violent 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

To some, the statue dedicated during a Fourth of July celebration just a few months after it barely survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake is a fitting tribute to the former president and Civil War veteran who was felled by an assassin. Many also see it as a piece of the Arcata’s past that should be preserved.

For others, who have spoken loud and clear in recent months, McKinley is an overtly racist symbol whose time has come, with several noting that the statue stands on Wiyot land that was taken through violent means long ago, meaning few Native peoples reside within city limits to participate in a potential removal vote.

But a community vote — a route the council had opted not to take — appears to be coming.

Two Arcata residents, LaRue and Stanton Reynolds, filed paperwork with the city last week to begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to prohibit “the modification and/or destruction” of the statue or its base “and/or the relocation from its historic place.”

If the proposed initiative makes the ballot and is supported by a majority of Arcata voters, the council’s 4-1 decision would be voided.

After a few incidentals, including publishing a “notice of intent” to circulate a petition in a newspaper and providing proof to the city, LaRue (who started the Facebook page “Let the people vote on our McKinley statue" and the GoFundMe website “Save Arcata’s McKinley Statue”) and Reynolds will need to gather at least 961 signatures by May 29.

Those will then need to be certified by the Humboldt County Elections Office and, if that were to happen, the city council would then adopt a resolution at its July 18 meeting to place the initiative on the November ballot, according to an email from City Manager Karen Diemer.

(Arcata City Clerk Bridget Dory said in an email to the Journal that the deadline for the June ballot has passed.)

Because the statue is listed as a historic feature of the plaza in the Arcata General Plan, there will need to be a lengthy environmental review.

Diemer said in her email that the city will “concurrently proceed” with the proposed initiative’s process to qualify for the ballot. An initial public scoping meeting is expected to take place at the end of the month or early May.

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