RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Monday he will most likely submit legislation to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s iconic Monument Avenue.
He also told reporters he is considering measures to prevent people from having weapons at highly charged public demonstrations.
McAuliffe said his administration is considering a number of proposals to improve public safety in the wake of a deadly white nationalist rally over the statue of Lee in Charlottesville on Aug 12.
The governor issued an executive order last week temporarily banning demonstrations at the state-owned Lee monument, but McAuliffe said he lacks the authority to remove the statue without General Assembly approval. The statue sits in the middle of a traffic circle on Monument Avenue, a stately boulevard with several other Confederate monuments.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, said he’s been particularly worried about the large number of people who attended the Charlottesville protest with high-powered rifles. He said prayed during the rally that no one would start shooting, and said such a situation could have produced “dozens and dozens of body bags.”
“I don’t want weapons at any demonstration going forward,” said McAuliffe.
There were no shots fired at the demonstration. One woman was killed when a car rammed into a group of people protesting against white supremacists, and two state troopers who were monitoring the protests died when their helicopter crashed.
The governor said people should be able to express themselves peacefully, no matter their views, but “they don’t and they shouldn’t have the right to carry weapons and incite violence and instill their hatred.”
McAuliffe faces steep odds in getting the Lee monument removed and limiting weapons at rallies. His term ends in January just as the legislative session starts and Republican-controlled General Assembly is unlikely to support McAuliffe’s efforts.
GOP House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, who is expected to become the House speaker next year, said Monday that Republicans do not support removing the Lee statue from Monument Avenue or limiting gun rights at rallies.
“I mean let’s face, the governor is looking at higher national office,” said Cox, referencing a potential 2020 presidential run by McAuliffe.
The governor may try and do something on his own, such as in 2015, when he issued an executive order banning guns in state-owned buildings.
But Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said McAuliffe lacks any legal ability to ban guns at rallies, and said such a move was unnecessary.
“Nobody was hurt by guns so he feels we have to do something about them,” Van Cleave said.
The governor’s comments came after he addressed state lawmakers on the state budget, which recently recorded a small surplus at end of the fiscal year. McAuliffe again urged Republicans to support expanding Medicaid, which provides health insurance to the poor and is a key plank of the Affordable Care Act.
After his speech McAuliffe predicted that Republican lawmakers will bow to fiscal pressures and expand Medicaid next year. He said the failed efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act in Congress have weakened any political argument against expanding, which most other states have done.
McAuliffe also used his address to tout the state’s economy and its improvement since he took office in 2014. McAuliffe noted 200,000 jobs have been created under his watch and $16.4 billion worth of economic development deals have been closed.