A survey of South Carolina legislators shows there is enough support to remove the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds if all supporters cast a vote.
The Post and Courier newspaper, the South Carolina Press Association and The Associated Press asked all lawmakers how they intend to vote. At least 33 senators and 83 House members say the flag should go.
That appears to meet the two-thirds majority needed from both chambers to move the battle flag. That rule is part of the 2000 compromise that took the flag off the Statehouse dome and put a smaller, square version beside a monument to Confederate soldiers.
The flag push follows the shooting deaths of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston on June 17. The pastor, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was among the dead. The suspect in the shooting, Dylann Storm Roof, was shown in photographs brandishing the flag as a symbol of hate.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley called on legislators a week ago to send the battle flag to a museum.
While the flag for many South Carolinians stands for noble traditions of history, heritage and ancestry, she said, for many others it’s a “deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”
“The events of the past week call upon all of us to look at this in a different way,” she said.
There are currently 123 legislators in the House and 45 in the Senate.
The exact number needed to pass a bill is uncertain. The two-thirds requirement applies to whoever is present and voting at the time.
A day after Haley made her public request, legislators overwhelmingly approved a resolution allowing them to add the flag to their special session’s agenda. But that doesn’t mean the debate will go smoothly. Some did not want to risk harsh words amid a week of funerals. Legislators are expected to return to Columbia on Monday to consider Haley’s budget vetoes and take up legislation that would remove the flag.
“This is truly a defining moment for the leadership of this state and nation — not by mere words but bold and decisive action,” said Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, a House member since 1993.
Like most of the Legislative Black Caucus at the time, Govan voted against the 2000 compromise.
Some legislators responded that they would not weigh in until after the funerals for all nine victims.
Others say they’re still undecided.
Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said he won’t take a position until a proposal comes before him for a vote. Two bills have been filed in the House. Both were sent through the committee process.
“I don’t vote on hypotheticals,” Taylor said. “Undoubtedly, there will be amendments and compromises to the bills filed. When it all becomes more clear, I’ll make a decision.”
The Senate decided to take a quicker route, sending a bipartisan bill introduced in that chamber straight to the floor for debate.
GOP Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, is among legislators saying the Charleston massacre — followed by an outpouring of forgiveness from the victims’ families — changed his opinion on the flag.
It’s a testament to Pinckney that the shooter “so evil and full of hate was offered forgiveness and the light of Christ by the very people whom he sought to destroy,” Bryant said. “Sen. Pinckney is no longer with us, yet his message of love and forgiveness is strong in South Carolina.”
Roof, 21, is jailed on nine murder charges for the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Two proposals to remove the flag would send it to the state Confederate Relic Room & Military Museum. A third simply takes it down. Some legislators are looking for an alternative.
“I don’t see it as just a leave-it-up or take-it-down scenario,” said Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill.
Possibilities under discussion include putting the state flag on the 30-foot pole, replacing the current battle flag with one that looks nothing like it and was unique to South Carolina soldiers, and being specific on what will be displayed at the Confederate Relic museum.
Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, said the flag flying now has to come down. After what happened in Charleston, everyone should understand why that flag is offensive, he said.
“But some of us who would like to see some way for well-meaning, non-racist people who want to remember their relatives to continue to do that,” he said.