Gov. J.B. Pritzker's decision to cancel the performance of a country band at the DuQuoin State Fair has put Illinois politics in the spotlight.
Pritzker canceled the scheduled performance of Confederate Railroad, a country band from Georgia, over the group's use of the Confederate flag.
Opponents have said the governor is playing politics with the musical lineup. They have pointed to the controversy around Illinois State Fair performer Snoop Dogg's use of imagery that showed the rap icon standing over the dead body of President Donald Trump.
Confederate Railroad was scheduled to perform at the DuQuoin State Fair before Pritzker pulled the plug.
“This was very disappointing as we have played this fair before and enjoyed it very much," Confederate Railroad member Danny Shirley said in a statement Tuesday.
The statement didn't address the group's use of the Confederate flag.
Pritzker said his administration wouldn't support the use of the Confederate flag, but taxpayers will still have to pay the band $7,500 under terms of its contract, according to media reports.
“The Confederate flag is a symbol of not just slavery but of treason against the United States. It’s also a symbol of murder, of kidnapping, of rape,” Pritzker said. “That is what happened under the banner of the Confederate flag.”
He also said the flag was the banner used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation through the Civil War.
Opponents have said Pritzker is using a double standard by canceling the performance of Confederate Railroad while allowing Snoop Dogg to perform at the Illinois State Fair.
Pritzker defended Snoop Dogg on Wednesday at an event in Chicago.
“There is an enormous difference … between the political satire, the discussion by a single artist, his political views and the representation of truly millions of people being enslaved, hundreds of thousands of people being killed under the banner of treason, essentially,” the governor said.
State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, wrote Monday in a Facebook post that she had asked for Confederate Railroad's performance to be reinstated during a meeting with members of the governor's staff.
"I wanted to identify for my constituents who made the call to cancel the contract with Confederate Railroad and the official reason for why it was done. I also wanted to express my absolute disagreement with the cancelation," she wrote. "In addition, I wanted an explanation for the booking of Snoop Dogg in Springfield considering his album cover has a picture of what appears to be a dead President Trump on a slab covered with a flag while Snoop Dogg stands over him in a defiant manner. I wanted the Administration to know I expected Confederate Railroad’s contract to be reinstated. I argued that if Confederate Railroad is canceled, then Snoop Dogg should be canceled too."
The governor's office hit back after Bryant's post.
Pritzker’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Emily Bittner told Springfield political writer Rich Miller that Bryant had met with three senior members of the governor's staff, two of whom were black, and "lectured them about why the Confederate flag should be acceptable based on 'heritage,' " Miller reported.
Bittner also disputed other parts of Bryant's post.
"We hope that Rep. Bryant is not trying to publicly exploit themes of division and racism," she told Miller. "Rep. Bryant told the administration officials that she wouldn’t display the Confederate flag in her own home because of its symbolism; if she would articulate her views publicly, that could be an opportunity to teach others about the flag’s meaning. She expressed hope that there wouldn’t be a boycott of the fair, but then used her social media to call the boycott 'understandable.' Rep. Bryant ended the conversation by passing along rumors about threats to the governor’s safety. When she said this, she added: 'I love my people, but they’re crazy.' "
Bryant couldn't immediately be reached for comment Wednesday on the exchange or Bittner's response.
State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, who was also at the meeting with Bryant and Pritzker's team, said he sided more with Bryant about the tone of the meeting, but that it was respectful.
Some groups online have called for Snoop Dogg's performance to be canceled.
Butler, who represents the Illinois State Fairgrounds, said he dislikes the use of the Confederate flag, but said that Confederate Railroad and Snoop Dogg should both be allowed to perform.
“We cannot have state-sponsored censorship on things like that, that is a very dangerous road to go down and obviously we’re in a very contentious time in the history of the United States but to have state sponsored censorship. To me, as somebody who deeply believes in the First Amendment, it is a dangerous thing to do,” Butler said. “So I think the governor and his team need to think about this very long and hard. We cannot be squelching someone’s voice just because we disagree with them.”
The controversy made national and international news. Some country music performers, including Charlie Daniels, spoke out against the decision to cancel Confederate Railroad. Daniels said it was a case of political correctness run amok.
“It has been brought to my attention that several people have asked both Restless Heart and Shenandoah to cancel their shows in protest of our cancellation," Shirley said in a statement. "I have spoken to both acts and encouraged them to perform as scheduled. Live concerts are how we pay our bills and feed our families. I would never want to see another act lose a payday because of this. Please go out to hear these two great bands.”
However, it's not clear if Confederate Railroad will miss a payday. Media outlets have reported that the band will be paid $7,500 for the canceled performance. Taxpayers will foot the bill. The governor's office did not immediately answer questions about the cost of the performance or the terms of the contract. And Confederate Railroad has since been booked to perform Sept. 5 in Marion at Black Diamond Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership.
The Illinois State Fair runs from Aug. 8 to Aug. 18 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. Snoop Dogg is scheduled to perform Aug. 16.
The DuQuoin State Fair runs from Aug. 23 to Sept. 2. Restless Heart and Shenandoah are scheduled to perform Aug. 27.