The Texas Legislature or a state board chaired by Gov. Greg Abbott can remove a plaque in the Capitol honoring Confederates, Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a published opinion Wednesday, providing clarity to a longstanding question over who has the power to do so – and how it can be done.
The “Children of the Confederacy Creed” plaque, which asserts that that the Civil War was “not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery,” had been the cause of controversy for lawmakers for months. Several have called it offensive and historically inaccurate.
Last October, State Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) called for the plaque’s removal and submitted a formal request to do so to the Texas State Preservation Board, which is chaired by Abbott and includes four other Republican elected officials and one citizen representative. Johnson, whose office is near the plaque, renewed those calls on Wednesday, noting that his request was never approved.
“They could take it down before the end of business today,” he said in an interview. “There shouldn’t be any confusion that the method I’ve chosen to go about this is the right one.”
Abbott said following a meeting with Johnson last year that he would have the preservation board “look into” how to remove the plaque. Paxton’s opinion made clear that three groups could make that decision: the Legislature, the Texas Historical Commission, or the preservation board.
And any legislator can submit a form to request the removal of a “monument or memorial” – as Johnson did – and submit it to the preservation board, Paxton said. The curator of the Capitol, who works for the board, can approve the change – or the board has the discretion to do it itself. Ali James, the curator, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Abbott’s didn’t respond to a request to comment on Paxton’s opinion. But during a gubernatorial debate earlier this year, he indicated that the preservation board should not be the one choosing to take down the plaque.
“This plaque was put up at a vote by the Texas Legislature. It’s the Texas Legislature with the responsibility to take it down,” he said. “Should they take it down because of the factual inaccuracy? Absolutely.”
Paxton said the Legislature could remove the plaque through concurrent resolutions, as it has done with other artifacts and monuments in the past.
But outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus – who is a member of the preservation board – suggested there was no reason to send the debate to the Legislature.
“I remain ready to remove the blatantly inaccurate Children of the Confederacy plaque,” he said. “There’s no need to delay this.”
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.