By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
April 17, 2015
RALEIGH – Thursday, lawmakers in the North Carolina House approved a bill that would replace a statue of former Governor Charles B. Aycock in the U.S. Capital Building with a statue of evangelist Rev. Billy Graham. Aycock has come under fire recently because of his white supremacist views.
The bill, HB 540 – Billy Graham/National Statuary Hall passed by a 71-28 vote, but not without some controversy. The legislation had been in the House Rules Committee. It was withdrawn from that committee on Wednesday without ever receiving a hearing and taken straight to the House floor for consideration on Thursday.
Democrats complained Republicans had circumvented the normal process for vetting legislation by not giving the bill a hearing in committee, but Republicans said that the real issue was that Democrats didn’t like their choice to replace Aycock.
Some of the names mentioned by Democrats as alternatives to Graham were furniture maker Thomas Day, U.S. Army Gen. William C. Lee, UNC basketball coach Dean Smith, former governors Jim Holshouser, Jim Hunt, and Terry Sanford.
Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham) introduced an amendment that would have replaced Graham with civil rights leader, Julius Chambers. Michaux argued Chambers was more appropriate than Graham to replace a white supremacist like Aycock. Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) ruled Micheux’s amendment as “not germane to the bill,” and out of order.
Rep. Marvin Lucas (D-Cumberland) expressed that North Carolina has many favorite sons like Graham, but he had concerns about the “separation of church and state” and whether Graham as a religious figure was a proper candidate.
Rep. Martin Grier (D-Wake) argued that proper deliberation on who might replace Aycock wasn’t being followed. Grier said, “We’re making a decision that will represent North Carolina to the people of the country. We should give it careful, careful consideration.”
Democrats insisted their opposition was not based on animus toward Graham. Instead they opposed the process for the bill’s consideration.
But Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Mecklenburg) said the process for passing the bill was not that unusual, but had even happened with another bill earlier in the session with no objections.
Brawley contended, “To say that the process has been violated is not an accurate statement at this time…We have a bill with a name, if this is voted down, there will be the opportunity for a bill with a different name or a bill with no name where we debate it. The question before us today is, would we like to replace Governor Aycock with the Rev. Graham and do we want to begin that process of getting that permission today?”
Democrats moved that the bill be sent back to the House Rules Committee, but Rep. Charles Jeter (R-Mecklenburg), the primary sponsor of the measure, accused Democrats of trying to thwart Graham as the choice for the new statue. “The only debate on this bill is the individual. This is an attempt to slow down the process. This is about Billy Graham,” he insisted.
House Majority leader, Mike Hagar (R-Burke) said that Democrats criticisms were a ploy to debate the bill forever. “Let’s just have a vote,” he said.
Republicans seemed somewhat surprised at the Democrats opposition, noting the vast accomplishments of Graham as the best pick to represent North Carolina.
Rep. Bert Jones, (R-Rockingham) spoke to the “separation of church and state” issue that was raised earlier by Rep. Lucas and referenced the preamble of North Carolina’s Constitution which is a religious statement. Jones said, “So apparently the writers and framers of our constitution were not as schooled in separation of church and state as our esteemed colleagues.”
Jones went on to argue that he believed if the people of North Carolina were given the opportunity to vote on the question they would vote for Billy Graham. He queried that a lot of different names had been bandied about the House floor during debate as alternatives to Graham, but then he charged most of the public wouldn’t even know who those people were without having to be told.
“When we stand up and say, Billy Graham, the vast, vast, vast, majority of people in this state would need no more explanation as to who Billy Graham is,” said Jones. “He has been listed as one of the 10 most admired men in the world for the last 52 consecutive years. I would go out on a limb and say no one else in the world holds that distinction…too many awards to mention…recipient of the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award…on and on and on…if there is somebody that you think that the people of North Carolina would rather have, then vote no. That is your right today.”
Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) echoed Jones’ words, summing up the matter, saying, “This is a man who’s made a difference critically in millions and millions of peoples’ lives.”
The measure now goes to the Senate for consideration.