They have history on flag feud

Con­fed­er­ate ban­ner bat­tles are fa­mil­iar to pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls from Florida

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Kur­tis Lee kur­tis. lee@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ kur­tisalee

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.”

Pho­tog r aphs by Shawn Thew Euro­pean Pressphoto Agency

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.”

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