Mitt Romney joins call for South Carolina to remove Confederate flag

Mitt Romney joined calls for legislation to have the Confederate flag removed from state house in South Carolina. 

Chris Keane/Reuters/File
A Confederate flag flies outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina in this file photo from 2012.

Republican and Democrat lawmakers are now pledging to introduce legislation to have the Confederate flag removed from South Carolina's State House grounds, days after an alleged white supremacist opened fire in a traditionally black church, killing nine.

One of the nine who died was a South Carolina lawmaker. Has the killing shifted thinking among state lawmakers to the point where the controversial symbol may be taken down?  

Not so fast.

The South Carolina General Assembly is not in session, and therefore cannot vote, until January.

But on Saturday, Mitt Romney increased the pressure to act, reiterating a long-held position, in a tweet.

South Carolina Democrat House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, of Columbia, said on Friday that he would reintroduce legislation that would bring the Confederate flag down.

“I can’t stand across the street from that church, knowing what went on in there and why, and act like symbols don’t matter,” Representative Rutherford said to The Post and Courier on Friday. “That young man had a flag on his chest of hatred. He had the flag on his car of hatred. He believed on it, acted on it. And if South Carolina government is serious about it, we have to take that flag down.”

Rutherford has tried to get a similar bill through the legislature in the past, and has been unsuccessful. But bipartisan cooperation from Republican State Rep. Norman “Doug” Brannon of Spartanburg may aid Rutherford’s renewed efforts.

“I will introduce that bill,” Representative Brannon said, in an emotional interview with MSNBC on Friday.  

Rep. Brannon spoke of his friend, Clementa Pinckney, a former state senator and a pastor at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, who was killed in the Charleston shooting.

"I had a friend die Wednesday night for no reason other than he was a black man," he said.

Brannon said he would pre-introduce a bill to get the flag down as soon as December, in anticipation of the Assembly going back into session in January.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley ordered the American and Palmetto State flags be lowered in mourning, but defended her office against criticism for the Confederate flag still flying at full staff. She said that only the state legislature can change the flag, which is part of a monument honoring the state’s Civil War soldiers.

Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina conference of the NAACP told The Post Courier that he didn’t think the removal of the flag would change the attitude of people — but it would change the way the world perceives the state.

The debate in South Carolina comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision regarding the Confederate symbol. The Sons of Confederate Veterans group argued that under the First Amendment it has a free speech right to express its view on a specialty Texas license plate, and that the state of Texas should not censor their message because some people find it offensive.

The nation's highest court disagreed.

“We hold that Texas’ specialty license plate designs constitute government speech and that Texas was consequently entitled to refuse to issue plates featuring SCV’s proposed design,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

Republican US Senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said in an interview with CNN Friday morning that the Confederate flag was “part of who we are” in the state, but he tempered his stance later that day. He told Fusion after an emotional vigil Friday evening,  “We’ll see what they want to do. We’ll take it up in January. I think it’s a debate that needs to happen.”

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