Senate Committee Kills Plan To Rename Jefferson Davis Highway

Senate Committee Kills Plan To Rename Jefferson Davis Highway
OLYMPIA - A Washington State Senate committee on Monday quietly killed a proposal to rename Jefferson Davis Highway after William P. Stewart, a black Civil War veteran and early Washington settler.

"It's pretty disgusting," groused Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, who sponsored the bill to rename the highway, better known as state highway 99. "This is a statement about what Washington state thinks is important."

A small stone marker near the Canadian border dedicates the highway in honor of Davis, president of the Confederacy. A group called the United Daughters of the Confederacy placed it there in 1939, part of an effort to create a national Jefferson Davis highway.

Dunshee noticed the marker as he was returning from a kayaking trip earlier this year. When news of his proposal to rename the road reached the South, he was bombarded with nasty e-mails, some of them threatening.

Despite the opposition, Dunshee figured the proposal would sail through the Legislature in Washington, thousands of miles from any Civil War battle sites. The House passed it unanimously.

But the Confederate president has some fans outside the South. Dunshee's bill died when the Senate Transportation Committee failed to pass it out by a Monday deadline.

"It's not a priority for me," said Sen. Georgia Gardner, vice chairwoman on the Transportation Committee and a Democrat. The marker is in Blaine, her home town.

Gardner complained that Dunshee was just trying to grab publicity with his bid to rename the highway. Dunshee, also a Democrat, is up for election in a recently redrawn district with many new voters.

"He's got to get his name around," Gardner said.

Gardner defended Davis, saying he accomplished good deeds as a soldier, U.S. Senator and Secretary of War before he led the South in the Civil War.

She also said the committee was too busy with the transportation budget to pass Dunshee's memorial.

Dunshee agreed the transportation budget matters more than renaming the highway. But he said the Senate routinely spends its time on less pressing issues.

"It's more important than spending half a day honoring Jay Buhner," Dunshee said - something the star-struck senators did earlier this year for the Seattle Mariners outfielder.

Dunshee acknowledged he's using Jefferson Davis' name for his own purposes.

"Politicians today use the symbols of yesterday to further their agendas," Dunshee said. "The agenda I'm trying to further is renouncing the glorification of racism."

Dunshee vows that his proposal shall rise again. He said he will try attaching the name change as an amendment to the transportation budget, or getting support for it from the Transportation Commission, which is independent of the Legislature.

Jefferson Davis highway markers were originally placed in Vancouver, at the southern end of Washington, as well as Blaine. Two Vancouver city officials quietly removed the marker from a city park there a few years ago.

Dunshee's proposal, House Joint Memorial 4024, would have named Highway 99 after William P. Stewart, a black man who volunteered and fought for the Union Army. He settled in Snohomish County after the war and became a successful farmer. His descendants still live in the area today.

Davis was arrested and jailed after the South lost the Civil War, but was never charged with treason. He defended slavery and secession until his death in 1889.