South Carolina Lawmakers To Debate Confederate Flag This Summer

South Carolina Lawmakers To Debate Confederate Flag This Summer

By Jamie Self, The State (Columbia, S.C.) (TNS)

COLUMBIA, SC — South Carolina legislators Tuesday made debating whether to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds an urgent matter.

Grieving the lives lost in last week’s racially motivated shooting at a Charleston church, the South Carolina House voted 103-10 to debate the flag this summer. The now-45-member state Senate voted by voice to join the debate — with only three Upstate senators.

That debate could begin as early as next Tuesday, the first day lawmakers could return to Columbia to accept or reject Gov. Nikki Haley’s vetoes to the state budget. Haley has until midnight Monday to issue vetoes.

But House and Senate leaders also could wait until after the July 4 holiday weekend to call members back, giving lawmakers time to decide where they stand on the flag’s location.

A survey by The State found a majority of state senators, 26, saying they would vote to remove the flag. Among House members surveyed, 27 said they would vote to remove the flag.

While many legislators declined to state a position, only two representatives and three senators indicated they would vote against moving the flag.

Calls for removing the flag — seen as a sign of Southern heritage by some, and racism by others — have been mounting since a white Richland County man shot and killed nine black Americans in a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston last Wednesday.

Police say 21-year-old Dylann Roof, who was arrested and charged, confessed to the slayings, called a hate crime by authorities. Among the dead were the church’s pastor, Democratic state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.

Bills to remove the flag were introduced Tuesday in both chambers.

“Today was a great step forward,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, a Republican, referring to the Senate’s move to fast-track a bill to remove the flag from where it flies, near the Confederate Soldier Monument, and place it in the Confederate Relic Room at the State Museum.

Leatherman, a senator since 1981, said he supports removing the flag — a decision he said he made after hearing from residents in his district who were moved by the horrific shooting in Charleston.

“It’s time to deal with this and move on,” Leatherman said.

Senators agreed to let the flag-removal bill, sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, skip the committee process, meaning they could give it a key approval shortly after returning to Columbia.

Two bills that would remove the flag also were introduced in the House and referred to its Judiciary Committee.

GOP House Speaker Jay Lucas said he might call lawmakers back Tuesday to take up vetoes and start work on the flag legislation. But representatives also could be asked to return later, he said, adding the House wants to resolve the flag debate as soon as possible.

Momentum inside and outside the State House has been building toward removing the Confederate flag.

Haley on Monday joined increasing numbers of public officials and business leaders calling for the flag’s removal. The effort has gained support from prominent public officials nationwide, including President Barack Obama and 2016 presidential hopefuls.

Wal-Mart and NASCAR are among the corporate giants disavowing the flag.

Inside the State House, some lawmakers expressed concern about outside pressure forcing a debate on the flag — a point of bitter argument in the past — while they are grieving the loss of a colleague and a friend.

Others were springing into action.

The Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate, a minority in both bodies, agree the flag needs to come down.

His voice trembling, Democratic state Rep. Joe Neal implored lawmakers Tuesday to “put aside partisan bickering and understand that all of us are human beings and all of us deserve to be treated like human beings.”

“If ever there’s going to be a day when South Carolina can rise and be the state that it claims that it is, this is the day,” Neal said, receiving an ovation.

A small number of Republicans in both GOP-majority chambers said they would oppose moving the flag.

GOP State Rep. Bill Chumley said the state resolved the flag issue in a compromise 15 years ago, lowering the flag from the State House dome and placing it on the grounds.

Other Republicans have not weighed in, saying that now is the time for healing.

“It’s a time of grieving. That’s what we’re doing now,” said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, a Republican, who said he has been praying about the issue.

“I ask South Carolina and the nation to continue to grieve. I … saw the comments of forgiveness from the victims’ families,” Peeler added. “I must confess to you, I’m not there.

“I couldn’t forgive him. I don’t forgive him. I don’t. I can’t. I hope I live long enough to be that kind of Christian, but I’m not there yet.”

(c)2015 The State (Columbia, SC). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo via Flickr

Could Tim Scott’s Election In 2014 Spur Re-Alignment Of Minority Voters To GOP?

Could Tim Scott’s Election In 2014 Spur Re-Alignment Of Minority Voters To GOP?

By Jamie Self, The State (Colombia, South Carolina)

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Strom Thurmond’s 1964 switch to the Republican Party helped make the GOP in vogue in South Carolina, prompting white conservatives to flock to the Grand Old Party. Now, Senator Tim Scott, the state’s first African-American senator, could help expand the party again, attracting minority voters, some conservatives say.

Scott was appointed to the Senate in December 2012, when Senator Jim DeMint resigned to run the Heritage Foundation. Scott now faces his first statewide race, a November special election to fill the balance of DeMint’s unexpired term.

While Lindsey Graham, South Carolina’s other Republican senator, is besieged by GOP primary opponents, Scott faces no Republican challenge in June. However, two Democrats have launched campaigns for Scott’s seat: Rick Wade, a former South Carolina Cabinet director, U.S. Commerce Department official and adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns; and Richland County Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson.

If Scott wins the November contest and then again in 2016, he would become a “national symbol for conservative values in the black community, and he will begin to force a re-alignment” of African-American voters with the GOP, said Clemson University professor Dave Woodard, a Republican consultant.

Scott’s successes would make it easier for African-Americans who do not agree with the Democratic Party’s positions on social issues — including abortion and gay marriage — to shift to the GOP, Woodard said.

State Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson (R-Richland), said Scott’s continued presence as one of 100 U.S. senators would give him “automatic credibility” and help the GOP appeal to minorities in the state and nationally.

But not everyone thinks a Scott win would result in an exodus of African-Americans to the Republican Party.

Thurmond’s transformation of the Southern GOP was “pretty dramatic,” said Scott Buchanan, a Citadel political scientist. “But I don’t see the same thing [happening] with Scott.”

That’s because even while many African-Americans already agree with the GOP on some social issues, they still do not vote Republican. “It hasn’t made any difference yet,” Buchanan said.

In a move meant to define himself, political observers say, Scott is trying to appeal to African-Americans by making education and access to jobs, traditionally Democratic issues, his issues.

Last month, Scott introduced his first two Senate bills, calling them his “Opportunity Agenda.” They are conservative proposals that should appeal to families stuck in struggling schools and economically depressed communities, Scott said.

Before introducing the bills, Scott said, he spent time during a congressional break riding a city bus, working at a restaurant “learning how to sweep floors again and cut chicken,” and talking to employees about what they need.

But, critics note, while Scott was introducing his “opportunity” legislation, he also was voting against other proposals intended to help the vulnerable, including extended jobless benefits, a bipartisan budget bill and a farm bill with money for food assistance programs that help poor families.

“The rhetoric doesn’t fit his actions,” said South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison, also an African-American. “You can’t go out and say, ‘I’m going to see how it feels to be a single mom,’ and then vote against the programs that help them.”

Some of the criticism of Scott has been more fierce.

At a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Columbia last month, the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said of Scott: “A ventriloquist can always find a good dummy.”

“The extreme right wing down here (in South Carolina) finds a black guy to be senator and claims he’s the first black senator since Reconstruction and then he goes to Washington, D.C., and [he] articulates the agenda of the tea party, ” Barber said.

Scott dismissed Barber’s comments, saying the minister does not know anything about him or his past.

“There is an all-out assault to make me something other than [what] I am,” Scott told The State newspaper. “Some people really want to hold dear the notion that Republicans and conservatives just don’t care about people. “Perhaps what they’re afraid of is … it threatens their position in the world of being the only defenders of those who are the most vulnerable.”

The subtext, he said, is that defenders of the vulnerable “can’t look like me and be a Republican.”

That pushback is “characteristic of what other conservative, black Republicans have faced” from many in the African-American community, said the Citadel’s Buchanan.

In the 1960s, the Democratic Party delivered landmark civil rights legislation that ensured that blacks would be allowed to vote while the GOP became “the party of … white conservatives who want to keep the status quo,” Buchanan said. “To many in the Democratic Party, (a black conservative) raises the question: ‘Why are you a Republican?'”

Of the Rev. Barber’s “dummy” comment, Clemson’s Woodard said, “In the black community, anybody who doesn’t think like they do, they use a racial slur.”

Republicans say Scott’s race and his personal story, including his rise from poverty, make him an effective messenger for conservative values in the black community.

Glenn McCall of Rock Hill, one of three African-Americans on the 160-plus-member Republican National Committee, said Scott’s strategy of reaching out to African-Americans in “Democratic strongholds” is one the party has developed to expand its base as the country grows increasingly diverse.

“He’s going to get significant support across the board in our state, but … he’s going to cross the party line, and also the racial line, because he’s doing the right thing and the thing that we have to do for the future of the party,” McCall said.

Scott rebuffs accusations that he is insincere in his beliefs or a mouthpiece for the tea party, which has supported him politically.

As “the product of a single-parent household,” Scott said he worked at a movie theater, a gas station, a mall and elsewhere growing up.

“I worked the jobs that I should be ashamed of going back and doing?” he asked, rhetorically.

Scott said his intent in working again at low-paying jobs recently was to “be in touch with people who are in desperate need of hope and opportunity, to have a real experience and real conversation.”

What he learned from the experience is: “If you show up, and you do their job, they open up in a very unique way.”

Photo: North Charleston via Flickr