Should it stay or go?

Photo courtesy of Charleston Post and Courier
The Confederate Battle Flag’s presence on the grounds of the State Capitol could soon be a thing of the past. A poll conducted of the members of the SC General Assembly by the Associated Press, SC Press Association, and the Charleston Post and Courier finds a majority favoring removing the flag. The General Assembly has added the issue of the flag’s removal to the agenda of its special session.

COLUMBIA — A survey of South Carolina legislators shows there is enough support to remove the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds if all supporters cast a vote.

The Post and Courier newspaper, the South Carolina Press Association and The Associated Press asked all lawmakers how they intend to vote. At least 33 senators and 83 House members say the flag should go.

That appears to meet the two-thirds majority needed from both chambers to move the battle flag. That rule is part of the 2000 compromise that took the flag off the Statehouse dome and put a smaller, square version beside a monument to Confederate soldiers.

The flag push follows the shooting deaths of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston on June 17. The pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among the dead. The suspect in the shooting, Dylann Storm Roof, was shown in photographs brandishing the flag as a symbol of hate.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley called on legislators a week ago to send the battle flag to a museum.

While the flag for many South Carolinians stands for noble traditions of history, heritage and ancestry, she said, for many others it’s a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”

“The events of the past week call upon all of us to look at this in a different way,” she said.

Local Response

In the aftermath of Haley’s call for the flag’s removal, S.C. House District 42 Rep. Mike Anthony, Union County’s sole representative in the Statehouse and chairman of the Union County Legislative Delegation, said he supports moving the flag.

Anthony also praised Haley for calling on the General Assembly to do so and praised the families of the victims for the example they set in forgiving the killer of their loved ones.

“I feel that the example of the nine families made when they met face to face with the killer of their loved ones demonstrated how love can overtake hatred,” Anthony said. “I believe to many this flag means hatred and I believe this is what turned the hearts of our leaders and I give Gov. Haley all the praise for challenging us as legislators to make a decision about the Confederate Flag flying on the grounds of the State House.”

Anthony said he favors moving the flag to the State Museum where its history and the memory of those who served under it can be appropriately honored.

“I do believe the honor and sacrifice during the War Between the States needs to be honored,” Anthony said. “The perfect place for that may be our own State Museum.”

Two-Thirds Vote Required

There are currently 123 legislators in the House and 45 in the Senate. The exact number needed to pass a bill is uncertain. The two-thirds requirement applies to whoever is present and voting at the time.

Flag Added To Agenda

A day after Haley made her public request, legislators overwhelmingly approved a resolution allowing them to add the flag to their special session’s agenda. But that doesn’t mean the debate will go smoothly. Some did not want to risk harsh words amid a week of funerals. Legislators are expected to return to Columbia on Monday to consider Haley’s budget vetoes and take up legislation that would remove the flag.

The Senate decided to take a quicker route, sending a bipartisan bill introduced in that chamber straight to the floor for debate.

GOP Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, is among legislators saying the Charleston massacre — followed by an outpouring of forgiveness from the victims’ families — changed his opinion on the flag.

It’s a testament to Pinckney that the shooter “so evil and full of hate was offered forgiveness and the light of Christ by the very people whom he sought to destroy,” Bryant said. “Sen. Pinckney is no longer with us, yet his message of love and forgiveness is strong in South Carolina.”

Roof, 21, is jailed on nine murder charges for the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Two proposals to remove the flag would send it to the state Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum. A third simply takes it down. Some legislators are looking for an alternative.

Possibilities under discussion include putting the state flag on the 30-foot pole, replacing the current battle flag with one that looks nothing like it and was unique to South Carolina soldiers, and being specific on what will be displayed at the Confederate Relic museum.

Legislators’ Responses

These are the comments the following state legislators made in response to the poll.

• Sen. Thomas C. Alexander

“I supported the Amendment to the Sine Die resolution for us to have the discussion. After the debate I look for us to do the right thing.”

• Sen. Kevin Bryant

“It is a testament to my good friend, Senator Clementa Pinckney, that a man so evil and full of hate yet was offered forgiveness and the light of Christ by the very people whom he sought to destroy. Senator Pinckney no longer is with us, yet his message of love and forgiveness is strong in South Carolina. This, I believe, is the story of the tragedy in Charleston.”

• Sen. Chip Campsen

“This is my answer. My district is demonstrating to a watching world that race relations are exemplary.”

• Sen. Lawrence K. “Larry” Grooms

“Until there is time to mourn and bury our dead, I will make no statements regarding the battle flag.”

• Sen. J. Thomas McElveen III

“I have always been proud to be a South Carolinian, and always will be. I will remember June 22, 2015 as a day when South Carolina made me especially proud. As we continue to pray for the families of those whose lives were taken last week in Charleston, it is uplifting to see our elected officials and people from across our state join together behind a cause that’s going to make the Palmetto State even greater in the years to come.”

• Sen. Floyd Nicholson

“I have always supported the removal of the flag even before the incident in Charleston. I consider race relations in my district overall to be fair. However, there is room for improvement like everywhere else.”

• Sen. Luke A. Rankin Sr.

“This was an evil act. My hope is that God will make something good from this — the ultimate sacrifice of this man and the other eight victims. I hope that from this will come a profound healing and a symbolic legacy.”

• Rep. Terry Alexander

“I supported the removal years ago and not the compromise.”

• Rep. Beth E. Bernstein

“A positive step toward repairing the racial divide which is so prevalent in this state and country would be to remove the confederate flag from the SH grounds. It was amazing to see a varied, bipartisan group of elected leaders come together in a unified front in support at the presser today. I was proud to be a part of it.”

• Rep. Kenny Bingham

“Yes….I will support a bill to remove the Confederate Battle Flag from the State House grounds. Yes….The Charleston Massacre was a significant factor for me. I would say that from my perspective race relations are good in my district.”

• Rep. Chandra E. Dillard

“We can do this — let’s remove the flag for one South Carolina.”

• Rep. Shannon S. Erickson

“I wish the lives, work and mourning of those slain were getting as much attention as a flag.”

• Rep. Raye Felder

“I do not want the discussion on the flag to take any attention away from the grieving families, the congregation, the City of Charleston or the Great State of South Carolina during this time of mourning. We will have discussions with the families and our State’s citizens and take action accordingly, at the right time.

“It is an honor to represent South Carolina and I look forward to addressing the flag and the greater need for more attention to mental illness in our Great State.”

• Rep. J. Wayne George

“Elected leaders along with community leaders have met several times including public functions over the past 2 years working to improve race relations and diversity in Marion County and District 57.”

• Rep. Jerry N. Govan, Jr.

“This is truly a defining moment for the leadership of this state and nation. Not by mere words but bold and decisive action.”

• Rep. Weston Newton

“The American poet and attorney James Russell Lowell said, ‘All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than one single lovely action.’ I believe the entire South Carolina General Assembly will act for the benefit of all South Carolina’s citizens. In allowing this legislation to work its way through the deliberative legislative process, our actions will speak louder than any words. As respectful, deliberation of this legislation moves forward and as a member of the House subcommittee and committee considering this important legislation, I will seek to bring before the entire body appropriate proposals for its consideration.”

• Rep. Leon Stavrinakis

“I support removing the flag and have my entire 16 years in office.”