In the face of growing public pressure, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) announced this afternoon that she wants the Confederate battle flag to be taken down from the capitol grounds. The Republican governor’s announcement comes five days after a white gunman murdered nine African Americans at a historic Charleston church. MSNBC’s Aliyah Frumin reported:
“It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds,” Haley said to loud applause at a press conference, amid mounting pressure to remove the controversial flag following the massacre, which authorities have called a hate crime. Haley appeared at a press conference alongside other South Carolina leaders, including U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott and U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, all of whom reportedly support the removal of the flag.“By removing a symbol that divides us, we can move forward as a state in harmony and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are in heaven,” Haley added.
Of particular interest is the legislative procedure that will unfold. Not only is South Carolina’s legislature in recess, but under state law, it would take a two-thirds majority in both the GOP-led state House and the GOP-led state Senate to remove the flag.
The governor, however, is calling for immediate action. Lawmakers are expected to meet tomorrow to discuss an unrelated budget matter, but they’ll also consider a special session to address the flag issue specifically. Depending on the appetite for change, and the governor’s sway with members, that session could come very quickly.
As for the broader political context, Haley has done the Republican presidential field an enormous favor.
As of this morning, it looked like South Carolina lawmakers would next take up the issue early in the new year, a month before the GOP presidential primary in the state. The governor is now taking the issue off the table eight months earlier.
What’s more, none of the leading Republican candidates wanted anything to do with the flag debate, with each of the top candidates going to ridiculous lengths to avoid saying anything that might offend far-right voters.
But now that South Carolina’s GOP governor has taken the lead, the so-called leaders are ready to follow. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), for example, who would not give a straight answer on the Confederate battle flag over the weekend, is suddenly delighted with Haley’s decision and offering his support.
What a remarkable coincidence – Walker discovered he could clarify his position right after someone else did the heavy lifting. Walker’s national rivals will no doubt make similar pronouncements tonight and tomorrow.
As for Haley, she’s receiving a lot of credit this afternoon for doing the right thing, and I can appreciate why. The governor recognized the need for change and lent her voice to a just cause.
But let’s not lose sight of the context. Haley’s previous stance – the one she held up until last week – was there was nothing wrong with South Carolina’s official endorsement of the Confederate battle flag a mere 150 years after the end of the Civil War. A brutal, racist massacre caused the governor to reconsider, and I’m glad.
But there’s an argument to be made that both Haley and her allies could have, and probably should have, reached this conclusion quite a while ago.
Postscript: Will state lawmakers follow Haley’s lead on this issue? The Post and Courier is working on a head-count, which is being updated in real time as the paper reaches more members.