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Lobbyists back teen trying to end Texas Confederate holiday

By CLARICE SILBERApril 20, 2019
Jacob Hale, 17, center, waits to testify at the Texas Capitol in support of a bill before the House State Affairs committee to renew his effort to eliminate a state holiday honoring Confederate heroes with new backing from a high-powered lobbying firm, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Hale says it is important to remember the past in an accurate, truthful way that reflects Texas' values. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Jacob Hale, 17, center, waits to testify at the Texas Capitol in support of a bill before the House State Affairs committee to renew his effort to eliminate a state holiday honoring Confederate heroes with new backing from a high-powered lobbying firm, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Austin, Texas. Hale says it is important to remember the past in an accurate, truthful way that reflects Texas' values. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Months after the removal of a plaque in the Texas Capitol that rejected slavery’s role in the Civil War, a push to abolish a state holiday honoring Confederate soldiers has returned with the backing of high-powered lobbyists. But it still faces long odds.

Texas is one of just nine states with Confederate holidays. Past efforts to either rename “Confederate Heroes Day” or wipe it off the calendar have gained little traction in Texas, where Republicans have also resisted calls to tear down Confederate symbols in the face of monuments falling nationwide in recent years.

But in January, Gov. Greg Abbott yielded to pressure and agreed to remove a 60-year-old Confederate plaque that came under bipartisan rebuke as historically indefensible. Now a Democratic lawmaker has renewed long-failed attempts to get rid of Texas’ Confederate holiday, and his supporters include a teenager who made headlines in 2015 after spearheading a bill when he was just 13 years old.

Jacob Hale, now 17, returned to the Capitol on Wednesday with the backing of Washington, D.C.-based Akin Gump, which is one of the nation’s biggest lobbying firms and is supporting Hale pro bono.

In a letter to Abbott and other GOP leaders, the firm said the holiday gives special recognition to Confederates not granted to other Texans who served the state and the country.

“While many are appropriately concerned about erasing history, it is not necessary to formally honor Confederates as heroes to remember their actions; particularly since what is heroic is subjective, and many Texans do not find the actions of Confederates heroic,” the letter read.

The bill sponsored by Democrat Rep. Jarvis Johnson would abolish the Texas holiday that has honored Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and other Confederate figures since 1973. State employees are allowed to take a paid day off or choose to take another day off instead.

“No one is forced to observe Confederate Heroes Day,” said Terry Ayres, who was the only person to testify against the bill in a hearing that spilled past midnight.

The bill was left pending in a House committee without a vote, and its chances of passing remain long in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

About a dozen Confederate markers remain in and around the Texas Capitol. The plaque rejecting slavery as the underlying cause of the Civil War was the first to come down since the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which led to the removal of a string of Confederate monuments nationwide .

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