- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - When Kentuckians erected statues honoring two of their state’s most historic figures, they put former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln in the center of the state’s Capitol rotunda. They put his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis, in the corner.

The two massive sculptures evoke Kentucky’s complicated racial history as a state that never officially joined the Confederacy but did host a shadow Confederate government and supplied many soldiers for the South during the Civil War.

Now, nearly 80 years after then-Democratic Gov. Happy Chandler unveiled the statue of “patriot, hero, statesman” Davis, some prominent Kentucky officials are suggesting the Davis statue should be removed. The proposal - which has been raised before, without success - was revived by the shooting deaths of nine black people in a South Carolina church last week. A rambling, online diatribe professing allegiance to white supremacy and displaying the Confederate battle flag has been linked to the suspect in the killings, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof. The shootings have also spurred new calls to remove Confederate flags that have official roles in South Carolina and Mississippi.

Republican Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said Tuesday he now favors removing the statue. So does Matt Bevin, the GOP nominee for governor, and Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader of the U.S. Senate.

“It is important never to forget our history, but parts of our history are more appropriately displayed in museums, not on government property,” Bevin said Tuesday.

Bevin has nine children, four of whom are black and were adopted. And Bevin’s running mate, Jenean Hampton, is black - marking the first time an African-American has been nominated by a major political party for statewide office in Kentucky. But Bevin was one of several prominent Republican lawmakers who received campaign contributions from Earl Holt, president of the Council of Conservative Citizens that was mentioned in the manifesto linked to Roof.

Politico reported Bevin accepted a $500 donation from Holt in 2013 during his unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate against McConnell. Ben Hartman, Bevin’s campaign manager, noted Bevin received more than 38,000 campaign contributions during his Senate campaign.

Hartman said Bevin and Hampton will each make a $500 contribution to the Warren County NAACP scholarship fund.

Democratic nominee Jack Conway said he supports South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s call for removing the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds there. But when asked about Kentucky’s Jefferson Davis statue, he said: “I’ll have to chew on that one a little bit.”

“It’s an important part of our history. I certainly think the flags ought to come down over South Carolina and Mississippi. Anything that a certain number of our people find offensive, I’d be willing to talk about, that’s for sure,” Conway said during a campaign event in Louisville.

A campaign spokesman later said Conway is open to the idea of moving the statue but first wants to talk with African-American leaders and members of “Kentucky’s historical community.”

Gov. Steve Beshear said Tuesday he asked the Historic Properties Advisory Commission, which by law determines what is displayed in the rotunda, to review the statues.

“While Davis’ likeness hasn’t been used in the same way as the Confederate flag, a broader discussion of the statue’s position in the Capitol is due,” Beshear said in a news release.

Momentum could be building slowly to remove Davis’ statue.

Last year, a former Democratic state treasurer started a petition to remove it and replace it with a statue of Kentucky native Muhammad Ali.

Democratic state Rep. Reginald Meeks, chairman of the legislative black caucus, said lawmakers are discussing the statue’s removal. He suggested a public referendum to let voters decide “because if you leave it to the political will of 138 legislators, I’m not sure that ‘will’ will be there.”

Stivers told reporters on a conference call Tuesday that he decided the statue must come down after re-reading Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, following the shootings in South Carolina.

“Think about what Jefferson Davis did, stood for. It was nothing that was contained within the Gettysburg Address,” Stivers said. “And so you look at that and you really think about it and you have to wonder why we have that statue in the rotunda when that is not the philosophy of Abraham Lincoln or anyone else that tried to keep this nation together.”

The Jefferson Davis statue was paid for with $5,000 in taxpayer money along with private donations, according to David Buchta, director of Kentucky’s Division of Historic Properties. Davis is also memorialized with a 351-foot obelisk in Fairview, his birthplace. The state maintains the obelisk, museum and gift shop.

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Associated Press reporter Bruce Schreiner contributed reporting from Louisville, Kentucky.

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