Politics & Government

Horry County state lawmakers split on future of Confederate flag at Statehouse

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, center, calls for legislators to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds during a news conference in the South Carolina State House in Columbia, S.C., Monday, June 22, 2015. Those surrounding her as she spoke included state legislators of both parties.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, center, calls for legislators to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds during a news conference in the South Carolina State House in Columbia, S.C., Monday, June 22, 2015. Those surrounding her as she spoke included state legislators of both parties. AP

State legislators in Horry County are split regarding the possibility of removing the Confederate flag from the S.C. Statehouse grounds.

Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday that the flag needs to be removed from the Statehouse grounds.

“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” Haley said in a news conference Monday afternoon. “My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move our state forward in harmony, and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in Heaven.”

Debate around the flag, which was moved from the dome of the Statehouse to a Confederate memorial on the grounds in 2000, has renewed after a white man killed nine men and women attending Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last week. Among those killed in the mass shooting was the church’s pastor state senator the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

Since his arrest, Dylann Storm Roof – who said he was at the church to kill black people, according to witness reports – has been seen in pictures holding a Confederate flag and burning an American Flag.

Elected officials who represent Horry County took varying stances on whether the flag should remain where it is or be moved elsewhere.

“It’s an issue that hasn’t been an issue for the three years I’ve been [in the S.C. Senate],” said Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Little River. “I feel like the flag is becoming the story instead of the story. ... For goodness sakes, let’s at least have the funeral. We need to go ahead and honor my friend [Pinckney] and the others that died, then we can debate this.”

The last governor to call for removing it, Republican David Beasley, was hounded out of office in 1998 by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and they made sure his political career was over thereafter. Their influence doomed Beasley’s front-runner campaign for U.S. Senate, a seat that was won by Republican Jim DeMint.

The group announced Monday that it will vigorously fight any effort to remove the flag now.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia, helped broker the compromise that moved the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome. That compromise in 2000 made it very difficult to make any other changes: A super-majority of two-thirds of both houses is required.

The Sun News asked some of the state legislators who represent Horry County in the General Assembly and other local leaders how they felt about moving the flag.

Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, District 34

“Good for her,” he said Monday afternoon after Haley’s press conference. “I’m looking forward to working with her leadership.

“I’m not a [native] South Carolinian, I wasn’t involved in the first compromise.

“The flag hasn’t been an issue until now and I felt like it was not my place to bring it up. I’m just ready to hear the debate and watch the governor get involved.

“I’m going to look into it and hear the debate and keep an open mind.”

Brad Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce

“We readily supported the compromise that removed the Confederate flag from the S.C. Statehouse and worked in support of the legislation.

“Neither our board nor legislative policy council has discussed this matter in recent years but I anticipate we will be doing so in the near future.”

Rep. Greg Duckworth, R-North Myrtle Beach, District 104

“I think that if the majority of the people feel like it needs to come down, I can support that.

“You hear a lot of things out there, [such as] it’s a symbol of heritage. Why is it that symbol of heritage has to be any more important than any other symbol?

“There’s a place for it, but I don’t know that it has to be [on the Statehouse grounds].”

Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Little River, District 28

“My view is, the first thing we should discuss is that we should appropriately honor those that died. ...

“I support adding this question to the Sine Die resolution [which allows lawmakers to vote on bills once the official legislative session has ended] at some point this year for debate.

“I know how I feel, but I’m going to wait a little bit before I decide what to do, in case I hear other ideas that could shape my views. ... But I do think we should take the question.”

Mickey James, president of Myrtle Beach Branch of NAACP

“For the last 16 or 17 years the NAACP has always thought the flag was a symbol of hatred and racism. It’s nothing new to the NAACP. The South Carolina boycott is still in effect because of the flag. The position of the NAACP still stands.

“There are groups who use the flag for hatred. You cannot embrace unity under that flag.

“We’re not surprised by the governor’s decision. But it took nine lives for it to happen and it’s unfortunate. It could have been done a long time ago.”

Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Conway, District 33

“My vote will be to take it down.

“This was an evil act. My hope is that God will make something good from this – the ultimate sacrifice of this man [Pinckney] and the other eight victims. I hope that from this will come a profound healing and a symbolic legacy.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, District 7

“Today our governor called to ask that I stand with her, U.S. Senator Tim Scott, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, Congressman James E. Clyburn, Congressman Mark Sanford and other elected officials to ask the state legislature to remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the Statehouse. This is not an easy decision. The flag is an important part of our history, and is revered by many as a symbol of honor and sacrifice.

“But to many South Carolinians it is a symbol of division and hate. Hate groups have co-opted the flag as a symbol of their movement. Horrific crimes have been committed by madmen wrapped in the Confederate Flag.

“The Confederate Flag will always have a place in our history, but in my opinion, that place should be an honored area in a museum. Not on the grounds of our Statehouse.”

Rep. Mike Ryhal, R-Carolina Forest, District 56

Ryhal said moving the flag wouldn’t change the way people feel about race.

“We have numerous monuments all over the Statehouse grounds reflecting the history of South Carolina and I see that flag as a piece of our history. ...

“The fact is it’s part of the history of the South. There’s no problem with having it out there.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or on Twitter @TSN_mprabhu.

Prayer vigils for Emanuel AME

▪ Who | City of Myrtle Beach Human Rights Commission, NAACP, Carolina African American Heritage Fund and several local churches

When | 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where | Mt. Olive A.M.E. Church, 1108 Carver St., Myrtle Beach

Info | Bennie Swans, 251-2061

▪ Who | Bethel A.M.E. Church, Horry County Democratic Party, Conway-Horry County Martin Luther King Jr. Committee and others

When | 6 p.m. Wednesday

Where | Bethel A.M.E. Church, 530 Racepath Ave, Conway

Info | 248-2492

▪  Who | Myrtle Beach Branch of NAACP and several area churches

When | 7 p.m. Monday

Where | Kingston Lake Advanced Manufacturing Academy & Job Skills Training Center, 3410 Church St., Loris

Info | Mickey James, 340-2018