Why some Utah lawmakers want Confederate statues out of the U.S. Capitol

Freshman Blake Moore and Chris Stewart vote to remove the sculptures, while newcomer Burgess Owens and John Curtis favor keeping them in place.

(Susan Walsh | The Associated Press) In this June 24, 2015, photo, a statue of Jefferson Davis, second from left, president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, is on display in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. Utah's all-Republican House delegation split on a push to remove Confederate statues from the building.

For a second year in a row, the U.S. House has passed a bill to remove Confederate statues from the Capitol. But it got fewer votes this time around.

That’s partly because last November’s election ushered in dozens of new representatives. Utah added two new members — Reps. Blake Moore and Burgess Owens — and on this issue, they split.

Moore voted to remove the statues, while Owens voted to keep them in place. Utah’s two other House members also were divided. Rep. Chris Stewart joined Moore in voting to remove the statues, while Rep. John Curtis voted to keep them where they are.

All four of Utah’s House members are Republicans. The bill passed 285-120, with 67 Republicans joining the Democrats in support. Last July, during the political uprising sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, the House approved the same measure 305-113.

Moore argued statues of Confederate leaders should be sent to museums or battlefields, where people can learn about the Civil War, “the realities of slavery and the brave fight to abolish it.”

“The Capitol, which stands as a symbol of freedom and liberty and is also a functioning workplace,” he said in a statement, “is not the appropriate place for these depictions.”

Stewart said, “I believe it’s self-evident that we shouldn’t be honoring those who seceded and voluntarily waged war against the United States. The U.S. Capitol should be reserved for pieces of art that inspire and unite.”

That wasn’t self-evident to Owens, Curtis or the other Republicans who opposed the bill. Owens, who is one of two Black Republicans in the House, did not respond to The Salt Lake Tribune’s request for comment.

On Twitter, Owens announced he is getting a knee replacement surgery. He took advantage of temporary House rules related to the pandemic to vote by proxy, asking Curtis to represent him. Curtis, who did not respond to a request for comment, said last year his opposition was partly based on the rushed nature of the bill. He called for a “reasoned and thoughtful” approach to the statues that represent each state.

There are 12 statues honoring members of the Confederacy in the Capitol. The bill would remove those and a bust of Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who in 1857 wrote that slaves were not and never could be U.S. citizens.

The measure now moves to the Senate, where its chances of passing are slim, with GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in opposition. It would take at least 10 Republicans to vote for this bill for it to move forward.

The Salt Lake Tribune will update this article.