Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Sandra Murman, no kidding, deserves praise for switching Confederate vote

SPOILER ALERT: The following column is about to state something nice about an elected official. The author of the column is beside himself with bumfuzzlement at finding himself in this rare predicament. But the author remains confident this awkward mood will soon pass. So let's get this over with.

A couple of weeks ago this space took Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman to task (and rightfully so) for her vote to keep the much maligned revisionist-history Confederate memorial in its place near the entrance of the old county courthouse.

Murman was one of four commissioners including Stacy White, Ken Hagan and Victor Crist to kow-tow to those who wanted the statue, called Memoria in Aeterna, which is Latin for Doo-Dah, Doo-Dah, to remain in place as a tribute to treason, bigotry and the institution of slavery.

Three commissioners, Pat Kemp, Al Higginbotham and, the board's only black member who initiated the effort to move the statue off public property, Les Miller, voted in favor of getting rid of Memoria in Aeterna, which is Latin for Foghorn Leghorn.

Well it didn't take long for the juleps to hit the fan. And before you could say, "The Civil War had nothing to do with slavery. It was merely a misunderstanding over trade deficits," the pressure started to build on the nay-voting commissioners to reconsider their positions.

Crist started wilting first, suggesting it might be a good idea to evict a massive symbol of racism off public property after all. But then the commissioner muddied the waters when he announced he wouldn't be able to attend the next commission meeting because he was going to be in California tasting wine and his wife refused to permit him to participate in a discussion on the statue's fate by phone. Now there's a profile in public service for you.

Crist's decision to cave in to his wife's absurd demands at a moment of a tense public policy debate left us with a 3-3 tie on the commission.

So it was to her credit that Murman moved to break the logjam by switching her vote to give Memoria in Aeterna, which is Latin for "I love the smell of sedition in the morning," the bum's rush off the courthouse property. And she did it without asking her spouse if it was okay.

Murman has said her views began to change after having breakfast with Tampa lawyer Tom Scarritt Jr., who offered to underwrite the costs of the removal. And so a few days ago, while Crist was slurping some very nice Pinot Noir, with just a hint of insouciance and touch of dereliction of duty, Murman cast the deciding vote to rid public land of Memoria in Aeterna, which is Latin for "And now can we also get rid of Robert E. Lee Elementary School?"

It is never an easy thing for an elected official to so publicly change her mind — and her vote. Fears of accusations of being a flip-flopper on such an emotional issue had to weigh on Murman's mind. And opponents will surely bring up her shift in positions as Murman runs for election to a countywide commissioner seat.

Sometimes there is a political price to pay for simply doing the right thing. But the fact Murman, an experienced and savvy public figure, was willing to risk her political future is laudable.

Memoria in Aeterna, which is Latin for "The statue that came to dinner," will now be moved to a private cemetery of the Brandon family, whose own roots date back to serving in the Confederate army. And those who still indulge in the delusion that slavery was but a mere footnote as a cause for the Civil War can go visit the statue to their heart's content. Have a nice time.

Regardless of what the future may hold, Sandra Murman can stand tall in the knowledge when it mattered she voted for common sense and common decency. No matter what the vote total is come next year, the commissioner can take heart she landed on the right side of history.

That alone is a pretty good political legacy.

 
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