South Carolina governor Nikki Haley called for taking down the Confederate flag in front of the state capitol at a press conference on Monday. She was joined by Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Tim Scott, Representative Mark Sanford, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, and many other South Carolina lawmakers.
“We are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it’s time to remove the flag from the capitol grounds,” she said. “One hundred and 50 years after the end of the civil war, the time has come.”
The flag is currently padlocked into place and can only be taken down if the state legislature votes to do so; an earlier legislative decision in 2000 moved the flag from its place on top of the state capitol to a lower spot at the Confederate memorial on the capitol grounds.
Activists and many high-profile national politicians have called for South Carolina to remove the flag in the past week. A bipartisan group of local politicians from the Charleston area held a press conference on Monday calling for it to come down.
Republican House speaker Jay Lucas released a statement today saying, “Wednesday’s unspeakable tragedy has reignited a discussion on this sensitive issue that holds a long and complicated history in the Palmetto State. Moving South Carolina forward from this terrible tragedy requires a swift resolution of this issue.” This year’s legislative session ended on June 4, but the lawmakers are still working out a budget. The lawmakers could include a sentence or two in the budget that could call for the flag to be removed until the issue could be brought up more fully next year.
Haley said today that she would call back the legislature for a special session this summer if necessary.
Republican representative Doug Brannon said this weekend that he planned to sponsor a bill during the next legislative session to move the flag to the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. “I just didn’t have the balls for five years to do it,” he told the Associated Press. “But when my friend was assassinated for being nothing more than a black man, I decided it was time for that thing to be off the Statehouse grounds. It’s not just a symbol of hate, it’s actually a symbol of pride in one’s hatred.”
Haley mostly evaded questions about the flag last week, noting that she had no authority to do anything without the legislature’s input. “To start having policy conversations with the people of South Carolina, I understand that’s what y’all want. My job is to heal the people of this state,” she told CBS.
It was a much different answer than the one she gave today: “Some divisions are bigger than a flag. We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand.”
Graham told CNN only a few days ago that the flag “works here, that’s what the statehouse agreed to do. You could probably visit other places in the country near some symbol that doesn’t quite strike you right.”