The movement to tear the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina State House grounds was moving along nicely for a while.
After the racially motivated mass murder in Charleston, Gov. Nikki Haley — in a change of heart — promptly called for the flag’s removal. In quick fashion, the South Carolina Senate passed a bill 37-3 Monday that would lower the flag and relocate it to a museum, sending the matter to the state House of Representatives, whose members voted Tuesday 93-18 to bypass committee review and send the bill straight to the floor immediately.
It is here that the bill’s rapid progression has been stunted by Republican House member Michael A. Pitts, who is leading the opposition in favor of the Confederate banner, and has inundated the bill with a series of amendments to thwart its passage.
In a statement released Tuesday, Pitts said:
I don’t see that this incident has any bearing on the flag or the flag has any bearing on the incident. This kid had drug issues and mental issues and I think that’s the root of the problem. Racism exists no matter whether you try to use the flag as a symbol for that or not. If the SC General Assembly wants to remove the battle flag, it should be replaced with a flag that has not been hijacked by racist, hate groups. The amendments I intend to introduce will do just that. We cannot erase our heritage based on the actions of one deranged individual.
Among the 26 amendments initially introduced by Pitts are proposals for other, less recognizable, banners of the Confederacy to be flown on the Capitol grounds; putting the issue to a public vote; removing all monuments from the State House grounds entirely; and flying the U.S. flag on the Capitol dome upside down (a traditional signal to indicate distress).
On Tuesday, Pitts said he would be willing to drop all his amendments if the House would entertain replacing the current flag with one honoring the 1st South Carolina Volunteers Regiment.
In House debates, Pitts’ willful obfuscation of history was apparent: “Some call it the War Between the States,” he said. “Some call it the Civil War. Growing up, my family, it was called the War of Northern Aggression. It’s where the Yankees attacked the South.”
He added that “despicable hate groups” abducted the flag’s meaning, and turned it into something other than what he had grown up with.
Unsurprisingly, Pitts’ voting record aligns with a constellation of far-right positions. He is opposed to all legal abortion even in the case of incest or rape; he has sponsored a bill that would prohibit any local municipalities in the state from enacting or enforcing their own gun control laws; he opposes marriage equality and the inclusion of gender identity and sexual orientation in South Carolina’s anti-discrimination laws.
This is not the first time Pitts, a retired police officer and member of the state House since 2003, has endeared himself to Confederate supporters in his state. In the 2010-2011 legislative session, he backed a bill that would make silver and gold legal tender in South Carolina. The Southern National Congress, a group that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “believes the South has been an occupied nation since the end of what it calls ‘the War Between the States,'” commended Pitts on his “courageous efforts” in “championing Sound Money in South Carolina.”
South Carolina House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford (D) called Pitts’ obstruction tactics “filibuster by amendment,” noting that there is no protocol for filibustering in the South Carolina State House, but that the rules do require 20 minutes of debate for each amendment.
According to The Daily Caller, Pitts further “stymied the debate over the bill by steering the conversation toward the ‘Trail of Tears’ and complications in his marriage, presented by his use of hearing aids.”
A writer for the local Columbia paper, The State, reported that after House Speaker Jay Lucas ruled another amendment out of order, Pitts replied: “I’m starting to feel how Lee felt at Appomattox.”
Debate over the amendments continued until late Wednesday night, when the last of Pitts’ amendments was ultimately rejected.
The bill went unchanged to a second reading shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday morning, when the bill to remove the Confederate flag from State House grounds passed 94-20. Pitts voted against it.
Image: Michael Pitts thanking his constituents for re-electing him to office, November 6, 2012. Via Facebook.
This article has been updated.