Con­fed­er­ate flag at is­sue

De­spite new calls to re­move it from South Carolina’s Capi­tol, the law and pol­i­tics pose for­mi­da­ble ob­sta­cles.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris­tine Mai-Duc chris­tine.mai-duc@latimes.com

De­spite South Carolina con­tro­versy, it’s un­likely to come down.

In the hours af­ter a gun­man en­tered a Charleston church and shot nine black peo­ple to death, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Ha­ley or­dered all state flags to be low­ered to half-staff for nine days.

But one ban­ner con­tin­ued to wave tall at a war me­mo­rial on the Capi­tol grounds — the Con­fed­er­ate flag, a sym­bol fraught with emo­tion and po­lit­i­cal com­plex­ity in the South­ern state, and one ap­par­ently cel­e­brated by the sus­pected gun­man, Dy­lann Roof.

Speak­ing in Charleston on Fri­day, Cor­nell Wil­liam Brooks, na­tional NAACP pres­i­dent, de­manded the flag be re­moved, say­ing that while “some will as­sert that the Con­fed­er­ate flag is merely a sym­bol of years gone by,” the flag is “lifted up as an em­blem of hate and a tool of hate.”

The dis­cus­sion set off a flurry of state­ments by public of­fi­cials. A White House spokesman said Pres­i­dent Obama be­lieves “the Con­fed­er­ate flag be­longs in a mu­seum.”

Sen. Lind­sey Graham (R-S.C.) said the flag is “part of who we are,” and that fly­ing it over the me­mo­rial “works here,” though he said hewas open to re­vis­it­ing the is­sue.

Why can’t state lead­ers take down this old, em­bat­tled stan­dard, or even lower it to half-staff?

The­yare not al­lowed to— not with­out a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Repub­li­can-con­trolled state Leg­is­la­ture. A law en­acted in 2000, which re­moved the rebel flag from the dome of the state­house, pre­vents any mod­i­fi­ca­tions to state mon­u­ments with­out a su­per­ma­jor­ity.

That part of the law makes it ex­tremely un­likely that such a vote could be suc­cess­ful any­time soon.

“It’s like get­ting po­lit­i­cal Ebola,” said David Woodard, a long time Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant and pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Clem­son Univer­sity in South Carolina, of the Con­fed­er­ate flag is­sue. “Any time you touch it you’re go­ing tomake more en­e­mies than friends.”

Woodard re­called the hard-fought bat­tle in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the Na­tional Assn. for the Ad­vance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple an­nounced a boy­cott on tourism to the Pal­metto State in protest of the flag.

Then-Gov. David Beasley lost re­elec­tion in1998, in part be­cause of his cam­paign to take down the Con­fed­er­ate flag, Woodard said.

“It was just a very, very tense sit­u­a­tion, and you weren’t go­ing to come up with a so­lu­tion that was go­ing to make ev­ery­body happy,” Woodard said.

Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple marched on the Capi­tol in Columbia to protest the flag, and sev­eral thou­sand oth­ers fromthe Sons of Con­fed­er­ate Vet­er­ans stood on the state­house steps — in uni­form, Woodard said.

State Rep. Rick Quinn, who was the ma­jor­ity leader of the state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the time, said the fierce de­bate made for strange bed­fel­lows. In an ef­fort to stall a com­pro­mise, mem­bers of the black cau­cus who wanted to ex­or­cise the flag from the Capi­tol grounds joined forces with law­mak­ers who re­fused to vote to have it re­moved from atop its dome.

Af­ter months of de­bate and a fi­nal marathon ses­sion, Repub­li­can lead­ers wrought the com­pro­mise that hard-lin­ers on both sides had feared: The flags hang­ing on the dome and in each of the leg­isla­tive cham­bers would be moved to the state mu­seum, and a new one would be erected on a 30foot flag pole at the Con­fed­er­ate war me­mo­rial out­side the state­house.

But any other changes to the mon­u­ment — or any other in the state — would re­quire the two-thirds vote.

In a floor state­ment at the time, Quinn called it “the most dif­fi­cult vote I have ever cast,” and praised the flag as an “hon­or­able sym­bol” that “does not stand for hate.”

“There are some peo­ple who are clearly racist, who have tried to seize the flag as their em­blem,” Quinn told The Times on Fri­day. “But oth­ers feel it is a soldier’s ban­ner” that hon­ors the lives lost dur­ing the Civil War, and still oth­ers have come to see it as a sym­bol of re­bel­lion against gov­ern­ment in­tru­sion.

“Those peo­ple have a bloc of votes in South Carolina, and they have a bloc of votes in the Gen­eral Assem­bly,” Quinn said.

The flag was first raised over the Capi­tol in1961, when the Leg­is­la­ture was con­trolled by Democrats, mark­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the start of the Civil War.

De­spite the raw emo­tion sur­round­ing last week’s shoot­ings, Woodard said, most state lead­ers con­sid­ered the is­sue closed, and have lit­tle in­cen­tive to ad­dress it again.

“What they did was set the bar real high so they wouldn’t have to re­visit it again, be­cause it was so painful,” he­said. “They don’t want to have to go back there.”

Rainier Ehrhardt As­so­ci­ated Press

PROTESTERS de­mand that the Con­fed­er­ate flag be re­moved from a war me­mo­rial at the Capi­tol in Columbia, S.C. A two-thirds vote by law­mak­ers is re­quired.

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