Marcus Whitman statue

The statue of pioneer missionary Marcus Whitman at the five-way intersection near Whitman College at Main Street and Boyer Avenue. A bill in the state Legislature seeks to remove statues of Whitman from the Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C., and from the state Capitol in Olympia.

At a hearing in Olympia Wednesday, sharp criticism was leveled at a bill to remove the statues of pioneer missionary Marcus Whitman from the state and national Capitols.

A signal was also given that the measure may not move ahead anytime soon.

Senate Bill 5237 was introduced by state Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, who said at Wednesday’s hearing that he wanted “to elevate our civic dialogue about real issues affecting real people living real lives, and I think whom we honor matters.”

Testifying before the Senate Committee on State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections, Carlyle said that reflecting on the role the Whitman played in history he believed “that Marcus Whitman does not rise to achieve the highest honor that our state can give.”

But committee member state Sen. Dean Takko, D-Longview, said “to me this is like whitewashing history. I mean (Whitman) was an important person, there’s no doubt about it ... In 50 years, do we take another lens and look at whoever we picked today?”

Two people who spoke against the measure were Touchet resident Charles Saranto, who spoke on behalf of the living history program at Fort Walla Walla, and Rowland Thompson, a Whitman College graduate and Allied Daily Newspapers lobbyist.

Saranto questioned the wording in the bill that said Whitman did not meet the standards of being one of the state’s top honorees “under rigorous, objective review.”

“Where did this review happen?” he asked. “If the review has already been done, and the public hasn’t been notified, maybe the public should have some input who Dr. Marcus Whitman is.”

Thompson, speaking as a citizen, said Whitman fully deserved the honors bestowed on him.

“This bill presumes to do a character assassination of someone who existed 170 years ago,” he said. “You start going down this road and it gets pretty fraught pretty fast.”

After Saranto and Thompson  spoke, committee chairman Sen. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, indicated Whitman’s supporters might not have to worry.

“I don’t think you’ll see it moving out of here anytime soon,” he said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

Andy Porter has been with the Union-Bulletin since October 2000. His beats include Walla Walla County, city of College Place, Washington State Penitentiary, agriculture, environment as well as a wide range of general assignment topics.

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