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Updating History: the State of Statue Swaps

Michigan Becomes Fourth State to Make Change With Gerald Ford Unveiled in Rotunda Tuesday

At a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda today, President Gerald Ford will become the sixth former president to be portrayed as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection.

The addition of the Michigan statesman’s likeness marks another notable occasion: His will be the fourth new statue added to the Capitol since legislation passed in 2000 allowing states to replace one or both of their two sculptures. 

Kansas was the first state to do so, adding President Dwight Eisenhower in 2003. California and Alabama followed in 2009, adding President Ronald Reagan and Helen Keller, respectively.

Several more states are in the process of adding new statues of their own to the collection. But it will be a while before the next statue moves in.

The process is not as simple as proclaiming the intent to switch. It is ripe with politics, bureaucratic red tape and fundraising — stumbling blocks that have resulted in at least two planned swaps dragging on for almost a decade.

In 2002, Missouri’s Legislature approved and then-Gov. Bob Holden (D) signed a resolution to add President Harry Truman to the collection. But Holden submitted the request to the Architect of the Capitol improperly and it languished until 2009.

That year, Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) inquired about the status of the project and realized what had happened, spurring now-Gov. Jay Nixon (D) to resubmit the request. 

Things are now back on track for the Show-Me State, but the switch could be years away.

Kansas’ second attempt to switch a statue hasn’t gone as smoothly as the first. Though the request to add famed aviator Amelia Earhart to the collection was approved more than a decade ago at the same time as the Eisenhower request, nobody took responsibility for the project, said Lynette Long, president of women’s group Equal Visibility Everywhere.

The request was further delayed when then-Gov. Mark Parkinson (D) included Long’s group in the agreement with the Architect of the Capitol.

“They said as an advocacy group, we couldn’t be in the contract. It’s supposed to be between the state and the Architect of the Capitol, not the state and me and the Architect,” Long said.

So the request was sent back for revision and is waiting for the signature of Gov. Sam Brownback (R). Long can’t start raising money in earnest or requesting bids to sculpt the statue until Brownback signs the measure.

Currently treading through the process, Arizona’s plan to add former Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) may still be years from completion as well. The Arizona secretary of state’s office started soliciting bids from sculptors last week.

“It’s quite the process. We were kind of surprised,” said Matthew Roberts, spokesman for the secretary of state.