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Former state Rep. Bill Cotty, opponent of Confederate flag, has died

Representative Bill Cotty, center, listens to comments from ETV audience members during a panel discussion on May 18, 2005.
Representative Bill Cotty, center, listens to comments from ETV audience members during a panel discussion on May 18, 2005.

A former state representative from Richland County who helped to bring down the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Capitol dome has passed away.

Bill Cotty, a Republican who represented northeast Richland in the S.C. House for 14 years, passed away Saturday at his home after a battle with lung cancer. He was 69.

Cotty, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., who graduated from Erskine College and the University of South Carolina law school, led the fight to remove the Confederate flag from the State House dome.

"I can't believe this isn't the right time for us to say to the state, nation and the rest of the world that South Carolina can see the bigger picture, that we need to respect each other and come together," Cotty said in 1995, when he was one of two Republicans to vote against keeping the flag atop the State House.

Cotty defied the GOP majority again in 1997, supporting then-Gov. David Beasley's unsuccessful proposal to move the flag and voting against creating Confederate flag license plates.

In 2000, Cotty was instrumental in pushing a flag compromise through the House. That deal, which also made Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official state holiday, moved the rebel flag to a Confederate monument on the grounds from the State House dome.

The flag was removed from the grounds last year after the slaying of nine Emanuel AME parishioners by a self-avowed racist.

Cotty also was an advocate of education reform and early childhood education, serving eight years on the Richland 2 school board.

“Bill was a true statesman. He approached every issue with integrity and passion,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, Cotty’s legislative colleague. “He had a servant’s heart and cared deeply about his community, serving with honor at both the local and state level.”

"He was very supportive of me every time I ran," said fellow Republican Susan Brill, a former Richland County councilwoman who later followed Cotty on the school board. "We had a lot of common interests."

When Brill told Cotty she planned to run for the S.C. Senate in Northeast Richland’s District 22 this year, "His comment to me was: 'Go for it.' "

But the two didn't always see eye-to-eye.

Brill first ran for school board at the same time Cotty was pushing for passage of Act 388, a law that limited property taxes on homes as a source of school funding, shifting the tax burden to businesses.

"Bill's the one who's supposed to have written the formula down on the back of a napkin," Brill said.

While Act 388 was popular with many homeowners, Brill said school districts still are "scratching our heads on how to make that (money) up."

Cotty was elected to the House in 1994. He practiced law for 42 years and retired from the S.C. National Guard after 38 years as a lieutenant colonel.

Cotty is survived by his wife Amelia, three children and seven grandchildren.

“We have lost a good man,” Lourie said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story Bristow Marchant: 803-771-8405, @BristowatHome, @BuzzAtTheState

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