The chamber voted 71-28 for a bill asking a congressional committee to approve the likeness of Graham inside the U.S. Capitol. Each state gets to contribute two statues, many of which sit within Statuary Hall. Federal law allows states to request changes.
Graham would replace former Gov. Charles Aycock, whose legacy has grown tarnished in recent discussions of his ties to North Carolina's white supremacy movement more than a century ago. His name has since been removed from some college dormitories and an annual state Democratic Party fundraising event. Aycock was governor from 1901 to 1905.
Republicans pressed forward with preparations for the Graham statue even though it couldn't be erected until after his death, in keeping with replacement guidelines. The bill would direct a state committee to select a sculptor and obtain project funds.
Bill sponsor Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, said he couldn't think of anyone more worthy than Graham, who is 96 and living in Montreat. Graham has routinely been near the top of the nation's most-admired lists, counseling U.S. presidents and becoming the leading face of the evangelical movement during the second half of the 20th century.
"I just honestly believe he is the right person for this position," said Jeter, whose district includes the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. He has said he contacted the Graham family and got their permission before offering the bill.
The bill next goes to the Senate, where a similar bill has been filed. Any final measure would be sent to the desk of GOP Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor.
All the "no" votes came from Democrats, several of whom said they were unhappy with the unusual parliamentary process that brought the bill to the floor without committee debate and with no opportunity to consider the decision carefully. They also said alternatives should have at least been discussed, such as Dunn native and Army Gen. William Lee, father of the U.S. Airborne; University of North Carolina men's basketball coach Dean Smith; or other former governors.
"This state is fortunate to have many, many favorite sons, and so for us to now do this seems like (it's) in a hurry, and not with as much thought as we perhaps could give this," said Rep. Marvin Lucas, D-Cumberland.
A proposed amendment by Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, to give civil rights attorney Julius Chambers the honor instead of Graham was ruled out of order by Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.
Some Republicans asserted that the Democrats simply didn't like the choice of Graham.
"The only dispute on this bill is the individual," Jeter said.
That provoked an angry reaction from some Democrats, who said the debate was doing a disservice to the Graham family.
"I resent the implication that I don't hold Rev. Graham in high regard," said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange, who described herself as a Baptist.
Aycock's statue was given to the U.S. Capitol in 1932. The other statue is a likeness of Civil War-era Gov. Zebulon Vance, which was given in 1916.
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