Gov. Bill Haslam says the state should explore alternatives — including the possibility of rotating who's honored within the Tennessee State Capitol — after a commission voted last week not to remove a bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since the State Capitol Commission voted narrowly on Friday not to request the removal of a bust of Forrest, Haslam said it'd be a mistake to think the issue is resolved.
The bust has been controversial since it was installed on the statehouse's upper floor in 1978. And although two attempts to remove Forrest's bust in the past two years have come up short, Haslam said Confederate monuments will continue to be a focal point — especially in Memphis.
The Memphis City Council has asked to remove a statue of Forrest on display in a park. Meanwhile, the city is preparing to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination, which Haslam predicted will draw attention to the controversy.
"I don't think as a state we can say, 'OK, well, we dealt with that,'" Haslam said. "I just don't think it's that kind of issue."
Haslam says he'll open discussions this week to try to find another solution.
Even some members of the State Capitol Commission who voted not to remove Forrest's bust said they were open to other ideas.
One suggestion is to switch out all the busts on display regularly. State Treasurer David Lillard, a member of the Capitol Commission, noted before last week's vote on Forrest's memorial that the state has long rotated the portraits of Tennessee's governors on display outside Haslam's office on the first floor.
Another is to add memorials to the Capitol grounds. Secretary of State Tre Hargett, who also voted to keep Forrest's bust, suggested one to the slaves who helped construct the building.
Haslam says there are limitations. Commissioning new memorials isn't cheap, and moving them can be difficult. But the governor predicts that calls to deal with Tennessee's Confederate monuments will continue until the state acts.