SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Lawmakers are considering whether to put a statue on state Capitol grounds of Ronald Reagan, the Illinois native who served as the country’s 40th president.
Members of the House Statue and Monument Review Task Force met Wednesday to discuss Reagan’s legacy and whether to memorialize him at the statehouse in Springfield, where there are statues of two of the four U.S. presidents who were either born in Illinois or launched their political careers in the state, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
There are statues of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant on the Capitol grounds, but no statues of Reagan or Barack Obama, who started his political career in the Illinois Legislature.
Reagan was born in Tampico and raised in Dixon. He later had an acting career in Hollywood before becoming governor of California.
Rep. Mary Flowers, a Chicago Democrat who serves as chairwoman of the task force, said “whether we agree with his policies or not … (Reagan) had a profound impact on the direction of this country.”
She noted Reagan’s “made-for-TV” presidency produced images and ideas that remain with the U.S. today — for better or worse. His “It’s Morning Again in America” campaign ad created an idealistic vision of the country, she said, but he also is credited with the offensive phrase “welfare queen.”
“This image has also stuck, not because it was true … but because it was a convenient way to celebrate ‘Morning in America’ without having to acknowledge the nightmare of systematic racism, that is also very much a part of our history,” Flowers said.
Republican state Rep. Tim Butler of Springfield said honoring a figure like Reagan is about acknowledging the great things the person has done but also questions about the actions they’ve taken.
“Everyone has mixed legacies and mixed things they’ve done,” Butler said.
The task force will continue to take public comment and discuss the idea.
Josem Diaz, the vice president for institutional advancement at Reagan’s alma mater Eureka College, would like to see a statue of a young Reagan on the state capitol grounds. He said Reagan’s story of growing up in a low-income family and going to the central Illinois college on a need-based scholarship transcends party lines.
“(The) Eureka College narrative about President Reagan is not political, Republican or Democratic, it is not about all the good he did as a politician or the mistakes he made — like many leaders make, even U.S. presidents,” Diaz said. “It is about the opportunity, and that is the story here, to remind our young generations to come that anyone from any walk of life — or any first generation student — can aspire to be the next president of the United States.”