Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, the leading Republican candidate for governor, said Tuesday that Americans don't need to fight about Confederate statues and should instead focus on fighting the country's 21st century enemies.
Putnam condemned white supremacists and the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, but said the country should not be fighting over the U.S. Civil War and erasing the nation's history.
"What's going on in Charlottesville is just awful and it's hate and it's violent and it's dark and it's got no place in our society," Putnam told about 160 people gathered for a Leon County Republican barbecue dinner. "And we ought to be focused more on eradicating hate today than eradicating yesteryear's history."
Putnam's family arrived in Florida in the mid-1800s and he is the fifth generation of ranchers and farmers. He's also a former congressman who rose to become the fourth most powerful Republican in the U.S. House before returning to Florida, where he is serving his second term as agriculture commissioner.
Putnam said students need to be taught the history of the Civil War, in addition to the country's involvement in fighting both Nazi Germany as well as more present-day enemies, such as those that planned the Sept. 11 attacks.
"Those are the lessons of history that we have to eternalize, and not have a big fight over something that happened 150 years ago, but have a fight about how to make America stronger and more united today against the enemies today — the people who want to eradicate capitalism and free enterprise and democracy," he said. Those battles, he said, are preferable to "having a fight about a statue that most people just walk past and assume it's just a pigeon roost anyway."
Apparently that also includes a Confederate monument on the grounds of the Florida Capitol, where Putnam has worked the last seven years and where he previously served as a state legislator. Some people are calling for its removal.
"As much as I love history, I've never noticed it. Where is it? What is it?" Putnam said when asked about the monument, which honors Confederate soldiers from Leon County who died in the Civil War. It has been on the Capitol grounds since 1882.
Putnam is seeking the seat being vacated by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who will leave office in January 2019 due to term limits.