Last month, a white Georgia Republican state representative — in the heat of a Facebook argument with a black former colleague — warned her that she may face a violent backlash if she continues her crusade to remove monuments to the Confederacy.
“Continue your quixotic journey into South Georgia and it will not be pleasant. The truth. Not a warning,” GOP state Rep. Jason Spencer told LaDawn Jones, a former state representative who chaired Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign in the state. He then warned that advocates for removing the Confederate statues may “go missing in the Okefenokee,” a reference to a large swamp and wildlife refuge near the border with Florida.
On Wednesday, Spencer and Jones announced that they are now working together on legislation that would empower cities to remove Confederate monuments and also convert the largest Confederate memorial in the country — Georgia’s Stone Mountain — into a Civil War memorial instead. Spencer also offered a lengthy apology to his former colleague.
“I do regret using the words in the response to a provocative comment by Ms. Jones. I do regret using those words,” Spencer said in a Facebook Live video recorded alongside his former colleague.
Spencer’s legislation would also overturn state law that prevents municipalities from removing their own Confederate monuments, under the condition that they sell the monuments to individuals who will preserve them for historical value.
“Give them local control to …. decide if they want to remove a monument which they found offensive,” Spencer said, describing his legislation. He then went on to claim that the Civil War itself was fought over local control — thus municipalities, not the state, should be the ones to decide the fate of the monuments. (Jones strongly disagreed with this view, needless to say.)
To Jones, forgiving Spencer was a matter of her personal values. She and Spencer sat next to each other for years in the state legislature — and they consider each other friends.
When she saw the torrent of social media attacks against Spencer following the reporting of the Facebook exchange, she felt like people were attacking him as a person and missing the underlying issue.
“I am American. In this period of divisiveness, I want to be a part of solutions not separations. I want to make a stand that is about the POLICY and not the PEOPLE,” she wrote in an email to reporters. “I was embarrassed by the national coverage of my social media encounter with Rep. Jason Spencer. Now, more than ever, we do not need more to separate us, we need to find common ground.”
Explaining her decision to sit down with Spencer and work on the legislation, she said that this is what Georgians want — people to work together on solutions, not just get into arguments.
“I would say we did exactly what we were sent there to do, which is to have real conversation to get to the type of solutions we need. The fear of talking, the fear of being offended by things is the thing that’s gotten us in the situation that we are in right now,” she said. “Make us an example around the country, not just in Georgia, this is how we need to solve these issues. Let’s stop talking about people kneeling and (Colin) Kaepernick, and talk about the policy issues.”