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Bipartisan duo proposes compromise on Civil War symbols after ‘go missing’ warning sparks controversy

The bipartisan duo behind a racially-charged Facebook exchange about the debate over removing some of Georgia’s most prominent Civil War monuments have reached a compromise over how to handle the divisive symbols. And now they hope lawmakers can rally behind their plan.

Republican state Rep. Jason Spencer of Woodbine and former state Rep. LaDawn Jones, a Democrat from Atlanta, had a lengthy sit-down discussion on Wednesday about their social media back-and-forth that went viral.

In that exchange, Spencer warned Jones she could “go missing” in the Okefenokee Swamp if she continues to call for the removal of statues in South Georgia. “Too many necks they are red around here,” he wrote. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you about ’em.”

Our AJC colleague Ernie Suggs will have more on this later, and you can find the Facebook Live of their conversation in this post.

One of the biggest takeaways, however, was a legislative proposal that Spencer intends to push during next year’s session. Neither was supportive of every word in that measure, but both said they were satisfied with the deal they brokered – and hopeful it could gain bipartisan support.

Their proposal would allow local communities to decide whether Civil War monuments should remain on their grounds, overhauling a provision in state law that makes it illegal to “relocate, remove, conceal or obscure” any Confederate memorial.

It also would set up Stone Mountain, the sprawling state-owned granite monument to the Confederate war dead, as a repository for Civil War statues that communities decide they don’t want.

The measure overhauls a 2001 law adopted as part of a compromise aimed at removing the Rebel emblem that protects the Civil War monuments across the state — there are at least 170 of them by some counts — from being removed.

It also would declare Stone Mountain a “historical memorial to Georgia’s role during the Civil War era,” excising the previous reference in state law to the site as a “Confederate memorial.”

And it would add new protections for the three Confederate war heroes enshrined on the mountain’s face from being “destroyed, defaced, demolished” – an apparent response to the calls by Stacey Abrams, a former state House leader who is running for governor, to change the law and erase the carving from the site.

Spencer’s influence is limited in the Georgia House. He doesn’t chair any committees and was forced to abandon a bill last year that would have barred women from wearing a burqa or veil when posing for a photo on their Georgia driver’s license.

But the overall idea could gain traction, particularly as Georgia attempts to lure Amazon’s second headquarters and other big economic development deals.

House Speaker David Ralston earlier said through a spokesman that he’s planning a “thorough, reasonable and civil dialogue” next year. And Gov. Nathan Deal said in a recent interview he expects lawmakers to take a “serious look” at how to handle monuments, memorials and street signs commemorating the Confederacy.

“I think they will do a pretty in-depth look into whether or not we should continue to restrict local jurisdictions — counties and cities — in terms of what they may want to consider in their areas,” Deal said.

Keep reading: Georgia gears up for fraught legislative debate on Rebel monuments

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.