They have history on flag feud
Confederate banner battles are familiar to presidential hopefuls from Florida
The email came with a simple subject line: Our Flag.
“Well, you f inally did something that I don’t agree with,” wrote Glenn Langford, a constituent of then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in February 2001. “My Southern- Florida heritage is important to me.”
Langford’s correspondence was one of many that arrived shortly after Bush decided to take down the Confederate f lag from its perch outside the west entrance of the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee. It had f lown there since 1978.
The debate over the Confederate f lag, to some a symbol of racial hatred and others a proud symbol of the South, has again come to the forefront after the shooting of nine black people at a historic church in Charleston, S. C.
It’s forced the 2016 Republican presidential f ield to address questions on race and states’ rights at a time when the party is grappling with how to become more inclusive of minority voters.
In a show of solidarity, many of the candidates have lauded the decision by Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to call for the Confederate f lag to be taken down from a monument outside the Statehouse.
For two candidates, Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the issue is one they’ve had to deal with firsthand.
Bush decided in 2001 — with little public discussion — that it was time to retire the Confederate f lag.
“Regardless of our views about the symbolism of the … f lags — and people of goodwill can disagree on the subject — the governor believes that most Floridians would agree that the symbols of Florida’s past should not be displayed in a manner that may divide Floridians today,” said his spokeswoman at the time.
His decision followed the bitter 2000 presidential election between his brother George W. Bush and Al Gore, which hinged on Florida’s 25 electoral votes. Some blacks felt marginalized by the disputed election and complained that their votes were not accurately tallied for Gore.
In 1999, the governor had displeased many blacks and Latinos by signing an executive order that barred state schools from using racial preferences in deter- mining admission.
“Minority voters — in particular black voters — were upset,” said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. “That came more from Bush’s actions on affirmative action. No one was really raising a big issue about the f lag at the time.”
Compared with other Southern governors, Bush was on the cutting edge of the issue, MacManus said.
But the debate continues in the Tampa area, where a massive Confederate f lag f lies along Interstate 75 at a memorial. Tampa’s mayor says it needs to be taken down. Neither Bush nor Rubio has spoken publicly about it.
In 2001, Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, was a fresh- faced state lawmaker. He cosponsored legislation in the weeks after Bush’s decision, which stated that no “historic f lag commemorating or memorializing the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War ... displayed on public property of the state or any of its political subdivisions may be relocated, removed, disturbed, or altered.”
The legislation, a rebuttal of sorts to Bush’s decision, ultimately failed.
Rubio has said the issue of the f lag is one for South Carolinians to decide.
“Ultimately the people of South Carolina will make the right decision for South Carolina, and I believe in their capacity to make that decision,” he told reporters in Miami last week.
When asked, Bush has been slightly more direct, alluding to his decision in Florida where the f lag is now in “a museum, where it belonged.”
MacManus said in Florida — outside of the I- 75 dispute — the controversy was largely settled and would have little bearing on the state’s Republican primary next year.
“But it’s most certainly going to come up, and [ Bush and Rubio] will have to discuss it in the coming months,” she said, “especially with the importance of South Carolina as a earlyvoting state.”
MARCO RUBIO hasn’t mentioned Tampa’s Confederate f lag dispute. On South Carolina’s, he says, “I believe in their capacity to make that decision.”
JEB BUSH has alluded to his decision to retire the Confederate f lag in Florida in 2001, when he was governor. He says it’s in “a museum, where it belonged.”