Raleigh, N.C. — Attorney General Josh Stein said he regrets his vote as a senator two years ago for a state law now at the center of the debate over removing Confederate monuments from public spaces across North Carolina.
The Senate voted unanimously for the Historical Artifacts Management and Patriotism Act, which gives the state Historical Commission authority over moving Confederate statues while also severely limiting that authority.
"In retrospect, if I could do it again, I would have voted differently," Stein said, noting that he paid more attention to flag protection provisions in the law when it was debated.
"I think the law needs to be revisited," he said. "It's wrong for Raleigh to tell every community in this state who they must memorialize in their public space."
Republican legislative leaders defend the law to prevent what they consider knee-jerk decisions on monuments.
"To honor someone like a Gen. (Robert E.) Lee who took up arms against the United States of America, the American flag, in order to preserve slavery, that's wrong," Stein countered.
Public sentiment has evolved since many Confederate statues went up in the early 1900s, he said.
"It was about exuding white supremacy. It was not about honoring people who had long since died," he said.
A group of protesters pulled down a Confederate monument outside the Durham County Courthouse last month, and students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have repeatedly called in recent weeks for the removal of the "Silent Sam" Confederate statue from campus. An attorney for a group of students has threatened a federal lawsuit against the school if the statue remains in place.
Gov. Roy Cooper's administration has asked the Historical Commission to move three Confederate statues from outside the State Capitol to the Bentonville Battlefield historical site in Johnston County.
The commission is set to meet Sept. 22 to consider Cooper's request and others.
Although the commission is in charge of managing monuments and other "objects of remembrance" under the 2015 law, the law prohibits permanent removal and states that any relocation be to "a site of similar prominence, honor, visibility, availability, and access that are within the boundaries of the jurisdiction from which it was relocated."
"The Historical Commission has to approve it, but there are only very limited circumstances by which local governments can seek to have a monument removed. That was wrong," Stein said.