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The Confederate Flag Vote – My Response to a Constituent and Friend

I voted early this morning to keep the Confederate flag on the Confederate Soldiers Monument. In response to my vote, I received an email from a good friend who was very disappointed. Here’s my reply:

Dear R,

I’m writing up some thoughts about last night and about the moral debt owed to our black citizens by the entire country (borrowing from C. Vann Woodward of all people) but I’ll spare you from reading the whole post by asking you what I asked some of my Democrat colleagues in Columbia –

With such an outpouring of grief and support for the victims in Charleston and seeing that the energy created from this horrible crime could be used to solve existing problems today – like draconian drug laws, incarceration disparities, education disparities, mental health funding – issues that Republicans always refuse to address because they cost money – why are the Democrats using that energy to renew a 50-year-old flag fight that had ended in compromise 15 years ago?

They just replied that the flag must come down because of the murders in Charleston.

So, in this spirit and against the opinion of the majority of my voters who contacted me, I helped other Republican members put together a compromise at the urging of our Speaker.

It took down the Confederate flag and replaced it with the flag of the first regiment of South Carolina volunteers who fought for the Confederacy. Note that this flag looks exactly like our current state flag except that the palmetto tree has a wreath around it. That’s about as non-offensive as we can be.

Incidentally, this mirrors the African-American Heritage monument which has life-size bronze sculptures depicting the black South Carolina soldiers who fought in the Union army – and it depicts their SC regimental flag.

That amendment failed on a very close vote when most our Republican caucus leadership, including our Speaker who had requested it, voted against it without warning. That was mid-day yesterday.

Then Gov. Haley requested a meeting with our caucus. We adjourned for 30 minutes. She came and shed tears about the Charleston murders and shared a story about how she felt discriminated against as a child – all because of the flag. She demanded that it AND the pole must be removed.

Then all the Democrats said they wanted the flag pole taken down and the day started to spiral downward.

So, why?

Why did Gov. Haley seize the spotlight initially?

Why did our Speaker turn his back on 56 members of his caucus who put together the compromise he asked for?

Why the sudden shift in attention from the flag to the pole?

Why were the names of the nine victims never mentioned if this debate was about them?

Why did the Democrats vote to spend almost $400,000 to buy a collection of South Carolina made Confederate rifles for the Confederate Relic Room as we waited on the anti-Confederate flag bill to come from the Senate? I had heard other rumors about the Relic Room, so in yesterday’s morning caucus meeting, I brought that vote up to the Speaker and asked if a deal had been cut that we weren’t aware of. He acted shocked that I would ask such a thing.

Over the last several days, I had 550 survey cards returned to me on the flag issue out of 2800 mailed to this district. That’s a very high response rate for a political survey.

Almost all of them had very thoughtful and respectful comments about the flag and the Charleston murders regardless of their position on removing the flag. Many included scripture verses.

Based on the sincerity of the responses, I suggested to both the House leadership and the Governor’s House liaison that we should slow the process and create some type of reconciliation mechanism that allowed citizens to express their feelings on this whole chain of events.

This could have been considered as the flag bill was supposed to go through the committee process as promised by our Speaker two weeks ago. But that promise wasn’t kept either. The bill was put on the fast track.

I understand that to a lot of people this issue seemed like a slam dunk opportunity for racial healing and that the flag removal would be a symbolic show of unity for the victims in Charleston.

But at various times during the debate, I’d look up in the gallery and note that it was never consistently full. The lobby was full, not of citizens, but of local and national reporters. Jesse Jackson showed up as expected.

I went out on the steps of the statehouse for air around 8:30pm and saw a couple of joggers but no one else. No mass demonstrations of support from either side.

It seemed a manufactured crises.

Unlike some other members, I never received threats. I am grateful for that. My House colleague up in Landrum received death threats, not only to himself, but to his family. SLED is investigating it.

I received about a dozen courteous emails from people in my district and a few telephone calls and Facebook messages, but overall the reaction was minimal. That’s when I decided to mail out my survey to encourage my voters to comment.

I finally decided before the final vote that the whole process and the speed of it had been rigged from the start and our Republican “leadership” was paying off some promise under the guise of racial unity. Who knows to whom.

Or maybe they are really just ashamed of our state and thought this was a way to look good. If so, they need to see a counselor about their own insecurities and not transfer it onto the rest of us.

What I did know for certain was this:

Two thirds of those voters from Greer and Blue Ridge who contacted me wanted the flag left alone.

Many talked with pride about their ancestors and being Southern. They expressed concern about the sudden national attacks on all things Confederate.

They see it as an attack on their family history and by extension, an attack on themselves. They are very right to be concerned and I agree with them. We saw strong indications of a disturbing type of politically correct cultural cleansing.

This flag debate wasn’t about unity. We were being manipulated to categorically condemn our ancestors to prove our own self-worth.

I refused to do that.

South Carolina’s past, present and future was not served well yesterday.