- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Democratic Party on Thursday said it’s dropping Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson’s names from its annual fundraising dinner, joining a growing number of state parties distancing themselves from the slave-owning presidents.

State Party Chairman Vince Insalaco said the party’s upcoming Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on July 15 will be the last to include the late presidents’ names, and said a nine-member panel will recommend a new name to the party’s executive committee early next year.

“I think if we could try to find a name that would certainly last for a long time, that would be a real healthy thing for the party,” Insalaco said.

Insalaco last year said the party would likely change the name of the annual fundraising dinner after several states, including Georgia, Missouri and Connecticut made similar moves. The parties’ efforts to distance themselves from the two presidents were part of a wider re-evaluation of names and symbols linked to slavery and the Confederacy that followed the shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers by a white gunman in South Carolina last year.

That attack prompted South Carolina lawmakers to move the Confederate battle flag off the statehouse grounds.

Jefferson and Jackson are considered founders of the Democratic Party, but their ownership of slaves has drawn increased scrutiny in recent years. Jackson also signed the Indian Removal Act that led to the forced removal of Native Americans from their lands in what became known as the Trail of Tears.

Insalaco said he’d prefer the party not name the fundraising dinner after an individual. Former state party chairman Ron Oliver, who Insalaco tapped to lead the name-change panel, said he’s heard similar suggestions from others in the party.

“It should have a more descriptive name of the party and the objectives of it rather than any individual,” Oliver said.

Georgia Democrats last year renamed their Jefferson-Jackson Dinner the Democratic Party of Georgia State Dinner. In Connecticut, it’s now called the Connecticut Democratic Progress Dinner.

The dinner is the party’s largest annual fundraiser and was headlined last year by Democratic presidential front-runner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spent 12 years as Arkansas’ first lady. The party has not announced who’s speaking at this year’s dinner.

The name change comes as lawmakers are gearing up for a renewed debate over another figure linked to the nation’s slave-holding era. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has said he wants lawmakers next year to end Arkansas’ practice of commemorating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. on the same day. Legislation to remove Lee from the holiday failed repeatedly before a House panel last year.

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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