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Second GOP lawmaker calls for removing Confederate flag from S.C. State House

Gary Clary
Gary Clary

Another S.C. Republican lawmaker said Saturday that he would support removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.

Rep. Gary Clary, R-Pickens, said he does not blame the flag for the shooting deaths Wednesday of nine African-Americans at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. A 21-year-old white man from the Columbia area — with history of making racist comments and shown in photos with the flag — has been arrested in the murders.

But, Clary said, the time has come to remove a symbol offensive to some South Carolinians from the State House.

"It needs to be put in an appropriate place," the retired Circuit Court judge said. "Removing a divisive piece of history is something I would consider supporting."

Clary joins fellow Republican state Rep. Doug Brannon of Spartanburg, who said Saturday that he would sponsor legislation when the new session starts in January to remove the flag from its spot along Gervais Street, next to the Confederate memorial. Republicans hold a majority in the S.C. House and Senate.

The movement by some Republicans to remove the flag went national Saturday.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, posted on Twitter: “To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor #Charleston victims.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, said in a Facebook post that he is confident S.C. leaders “will do the right thing.”

“My position on how to address the Confederate flag is clear. In Florida, we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged,” Bush wrote.

In South Carolina, the flag was moved to the grounds in 2000 as part of a compromise to take it off the capital dome where it flew for four decades.

The compromise did not end the protests about the flag's presence at the State House. The NAACP called for a tourist boycott of the state. S.C. Democratic leaders have asked repeatedly over the years for the flag's removal.

But after the murders in Charleston, some Republicans are joining the chorus to remove the Confederate flag. The victims of Wednesday's shooting included Democratic state State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was the pastor at Emanuel.

Clary said sending the flag off the State House grounds "is the next logical step."

The first-term representative said he did not know if bills to remove the flag could get enough votes to muster the two-thirds majority in the General Assembly as required by law.

House Republican leaders said they did not want to make a decision about the flag so soon after the mass murder.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York, said he does not think a decision should be based on alleged shooter Dylann Roof's racist comments and photos with the Confederate flag — calling that "poor policy."

"Just because we have kept the flag (at the State House) does not condone what took place," said Pope, a former prosecutor.

Assistant House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, said the focus should be on the grieving families of Pinckney and his parishioners who died in the mass murder.

Debate about the Confederate flag should come later, he said.

"The Legislature is out of session (except for approving a budget) and that gives us time to reflect," said Simrill, who first met Pinckney when the future senator was a House page.

Simrill said he did not see Brannon's statement that he would take down the flag as an instance of a Republican willing to tackle an issue favored by Democrats. He said he saw it as an expression of unity, like others that have crossed racial and religious boundaries in the wake of the shootings.

Efforts to reach other House Republican leaders — Speaker Jay Lucas of Darlington and Majority Leader Bruce Bannister of Greenville — were unsuccessful Saturday.

Gov. Nikki Haley, a Lexington Republican, has said she welcomes a debate on the flag after the state has had a chance to heal from the massacre.

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