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The Week: After Charlottesville, eyes turn to Stone Mountain

It was a week when Georgia politics found difficulty putting any distance between itself and a massive piece of granite in metro Atlanta, and one when the governor’s race — still nearly 15 months away — added a few jalapenos worth of warmth to this stone soup.

State Rep. Stacey Abrams found a way to combine the two, calling Tuesday for removal from Stone Mountain the images of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Rebel Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Abrams, who is seeking the Democratic nomination in the governor’s race, said the carving “remains a blight on our state.”

“We must never celebrate those who defended slavery and tried to destroy the union,” Abrams said in a series of tweets in response to the deadly violence sparked by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Va.

It won’t be that easy to get rid of Davis, Lee and Jackson. Besides employing maybe the world’s largest sandblaster, it would take a change in a state law that has survived years of opposition from some lawmakers and civil rights groups.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle was among the Republicans running for governor who criticized Abrams’ stance.

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“Instead of dividing Georgians with inflammatory rhetoric for political gain,” Cagle said, “we should work together to add to our history, not take from it.”

  • Unexpected opposition: Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, a civil rights icon, said Wednesday that he doesn’t back the fight to tear down Confederate memorials across the country and that he fears it could have unintended consequences.

“I think it’s too costly to refight the Civil War,” Young said Wednesday. “We have paid too great a price in trying to bring people together.”

In a similar vein, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson suggested Wednesday that Confederate statues should remain on display in the U.S. Capitol — a stance bucking those of many of his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus who want to see them removed. The Hill newspaper reported that Johnson “suggested it’s better to include statues of figures from other chapters of U.S. history alongside depictions of the Confederacy.”

“The goal,” Johnson spokesman Andy Phelan told The Hill, “should be revision and inclusion as opposed to the obliteration of the nation’s history.”

  • So, a little more history: Abrams was not the first Democrat to bring up Stone Mountain following the clash in Charlottesville.

On Sunday, former state lawmaker LaDawn Jones posted on her blog a description of an encounter she had in 2015 with Abrams, who was then the House minority leader.

Jones set her sights on Stone Mountain following the massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, S.C. But she said Abrams refused to even raise the topic with the House Democratic Caucus.

Jones happens to be backing Abrams’ rival for the Democratic nomination for governor, state Rep. Stacey Evans of Smyrna.

Evans offered up her own ideas for Stone Mountain, saying in a statement Tuesday that she supported Jones’ proposal that “would require the agency overseeing Stone Mountain Park to maintain an appropriate, inclusive, and historically accurate memorial to the Civil War — not the Confederacy.”

“I also believe we should repeal any provision of Georgia law that restricts state or local governments from altering or removing local monuments or street names that glorify the Confederacy, so we can ensure that these memorials are given the appropriate historical context and do not glorify a hateful past.”

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association cited trouble at a pro-white rally last year in turning down Joey Hobbs’ application for a cross-burning ceremony to mark the KKK’s 1915 revival, which began with a flaming cross atop the mountain on the evening of Thanksgiving. Hobbs could not be reached for comment.

In a statement, the memorial group said it “condemns the beliefs and actions of the Ku Klux Klan and believes the denial of this Public Assembly request is in the best interest of all parties.”

  • Calls for a rebuke: Before making her Stone Mountain proposal, it had already been a busy week for Abrams, who is vying to be the nation’s first black female governor.

On Monday, she was playing a little defense after being called on to rebuke protesters who two days earlier shouted “support black women” over Evans’ speech at a conference of liberal activists from across the nation.

Abrams supporters formed a line in front of Evans, who is white, almost as soon as she took the podium at the Netroots Nation conference in Atlanta. Some wielded signs equating the Smyrna Democrat to supporters of President Donald Trump, and others waved “trust black women” placards. Evans had intended to talk about how liberals can reach out to moderate white voters, but the racially charged chants drowned her out.

In a Facebook post, Abrams said the protesters were “wholly unaffiliated” with her campaign.

She also said she would “never engage in any form of campaigning designed to ostracize my opponents based on race.”

  • Reaction to Charlottesville: The violence in Virginia — and President Donald Trump’s comments about the conflict, swinging from blaming it Saturday on “many sides” to Monday’s condemnation of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan to Tuesday’s assertion that both sides had a hand in it while also singling out “alt-left” groups as “very, very violent” — generated words and actions across Georgia.

Georgia Republicans in Congress condemned the white supremacists, nationalists and members of the Ku Klux Klan about the clashes. But all of them steered clear of criticizing Trump directly.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue offered a fitting example in this tweet: “KKK, neo-Nazi, & white supremacist groups spew bigotry & racism. These groups & their ideals are the antithesis of American patriotism.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott of Atlanta said similar things but added in a tweet: “The President must show leadership in understanding and underscoring the threat these groups pose to our nation …”

  • Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Dunwoody resident Marc Alan Urbach has joined the GOP race for governor. Urbach, who ran for president last year, vows to slash the income tax and “end the corrupt and illegal” Affordable Care Act. Four better-known Republican candidates are already in the contest: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp and state Sens. Hunter Hill and Michael Williams.

— Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich endorsed state Senate President Pro Tem David Shafer in the GOP contest for lieutenant governor, calling him “an effective, innovative legislator.” Meanwhile, state Rep. Geoff Duncan picked up the support of former Coca-Cola Enterprises executive John Brock, who said he wanted to back a candidate who “knows what it’s like to sign the front of a check and not just the back of one.” Duncan has led several health startups. State Sen. Rick Jeffares is the other Republican in the race. No Democrats have yet announced.

— Leo Smith, the state GOP’s former minority outreach guru, is now seeking the Buckhead-based District 6 state Senate seat currently held by state Sen. Hunter Hill, who is running for governor. Also running for the Senate seat: Leah Aldridge, a GOP attorney who is the former president of a nonprofit called Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies.

— Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and fellow civil rights icon C.T. Vivian endorsed Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell in the city’s race for mayor.

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