Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III said yesterday it might be best for governors to get out of the business of issuing proclamations altogether as one way out of his dilemma over a Confederate History Month decree.
“Maybe we ought to just get away from the whole business of government endorsement of basically local community activities. Let this stuff grow out of the community instead of the governor issuing a proclamation,” Mr. Gilmore said. “And if people are going to fight over proclamations, maybe the thing for us to do is to get out of the business of it.”
The governor was answering a caller to his monthly radio call-in show that originates from WRVA-AM in Richmond and is available in most parts of the state, but not in Northern Virginia.
Following a tradition begun by earlier governors, Mr. Gilmore issued a proclamation recognizing April as Confederate History Month in Virginia each of his first three years in office. He included in it a line about the “abhorred” practice of slavery to head off criticism that the decree ignored the treatment of blacks.
But after this year’s proclamation, the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) threatened an economic boycott of the state if the proclamation was repeated next year.
The NAACP has issued several deadlines for the governor to make his decision, but each Memorial Day, Labor Day, then the end of September has come and gone with no boycott and no decision from Mr. Gilmore, who says he is continuing to sound out residents on the issue.
Mr. Gilmore and the NAACP have begun quarterly meetings to discuss the proclamation and others issues the civil rights group has wanted to raise with the governor.
The governor’s spokeswoman, Lila White, said Mr. Gilmore wasn’t sending a signal yesterday about his intentions, but rather speculating about solutions to the problem.
“This is an issue that is close to many people’s hearts and it’s an issue over which good people have strong disagreements, and the governor is trying to find a way to help all the people of Virginia,” she said.
One of the proclamation’s ardent backers, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) heritage group, hoped it was just speculation.
“I hope that is not a trial balloon,” said Brag Bowling, an official with the Virginia division of the SCV. “In the past he has mentioned that possibility. What I do think is that if that’s his answer to the problem raised on Confederate History Month, then what he’s doing is just knuckling under to the NAACP, because by not issuing it he’s giving in to the NAACP.”
Officials from the SCV had their chance to plead their case at a meeting with the governor in August, and he challenged them to show the proclamation had widespread support.
Mr. Bowling said the SCV Virginia division commander, Henry Kidd, has a petition signed by almost 50,000 Virginians supporting the proclamation. The SCV has requested another meeting from the governor to present the petition, Mr. Bowling said.
Salim Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP, did not return a phone call asking about the governor’s remarks but told the Associated Press, “We decided that we will talk directly, and I’d rather not have it decided in the media. It has pitted us on two opposing poles, and the whole boycott issue won out when we had many other issues to deal with.”
Mr. Gilmore has proclaimed on everything from Selective Service Registration Awareness Month (September) to Day of the American Indians (the Wednesday before Thanksgiving) to Work Zone Safety Awareness Week (April 3-9, 2000).
Until yesterday, the governor had consistently said he expected to issue some proclamation in April.
“I’m sure something will be issued, but we’re leaving it wide open at this point as to the nature of any type of proclamation,” he said in August before meeting with the SCV.