By Bruce Olson
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - A plan to place a bust in the Missouri Capitol to honor Rush Limbaugh, the conservative broadcaster embroiled in controversy over his calling a university student a "slut" on the air, has drawn protests from state Democrats who are trying to block the effort.
The bust, proposed by Republican state House Speaker Steve Tilley, would sit in the Capitol rotunda alongside those of other prominent Missouri natives such as writer Mark Twain and former president Harry Truman.
Some 47 Missouri Democratic leaders, in a letter delivered to Tilley on Tuesday, said Limbaugh should not be honored and that the action would be "inappropriate and offensive," a spokesman for Tilley confirmed.
"Honoring Mr. Limbaugh in the wake of this incident would be seen as a tacit endorsement of his misogynistic attitudes," read the letter, circulated by House Minority Leader Mike Talboy.
Missouri Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, who Limbaugh once called "a commie babe liberal," said she opposed honoring him.
"I draw the line," at putting Limbaugh's bust in the Capitol, McCaskill told MSNBC on Monday.
About 1,300 people have signed an online petition protesting against a Limbaugh bust, said Sean Soendker Nicholson, executive director of the liberal group Progress Missouri, which launched the petition drive.
Since Limbaugh's controversial statements about Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke last week, some advertisers have dropped his radio talk show and at least two radio stations have said they will no longer air it.
Limbaugh has apologized for the "slut" remark, saying he had gone too far in his attack on Fluke.
Speaker Tilley made the decision to honor Limbaugh about three months ago. The bust will not be unveiled until May.
The hall where the bust would be displayed in the state Capitol rotunda in Jefferson City, Missouri, includes a ring of busts that also include baseball great Stan Musial, ragtime composer Scott Joplin, Native American guide Sacajawea and writer Laura Ingalls Wilder.
It was not clear if the Democratic opposition could stop the bust installation. The House Speaker has traditionally made the decision, and money for the bust was raised privately.
Republican majorities control both the Missouri state House and Senate. Tilley, like Limbaugh, hails from southeast Missouri, and defended his decision in a statement on Tuesday.
"Due to the nature of the career paths many inductees chose, current members of the hall often had detractors and were not always uncontroversial or universally loved and adored," Tilley said. "Rush's work in broadcasting revitalized the talk radio format and many say he even saved the AM dial from extinction," Tilley said.
He added that Dred Scott, a slave whose St. Louis court case led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that helped to ignite the Civil War, would also be honored this year.
Twain, the 19th century author and acerbic political commentator whose remarks were also controversial, was the first inductee, taking his place in the rotunda in 1982. The hall also includes astronomer Edwin Hubble and game show host Bob Barker.
Money for the busts, which cost about $10,000, is raised at an annual golf tournament sponsored by the speaker, who chooses the inductees.
(Reporting and writing by Bruce Olson; Additional reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Cynthia Johnston)