September 23, 2009

Confederate flag again at issue in South Carolina

Posted: September 23rd, 2009

(CNN) – One of South Carolina’s Republican candidates for governor is open to talking with the NAACP about ending its boycott of the state for flying the Confederate flag in front of the Statehouse.

But the candidate — congressman Gresham Barrett — doesn’t want the flag removed.

During a debate Tuesday between the five GOP candidates for governor, Barrett answered "yes" when asked if he would consider sitting down with the NAACP to revisit the flag issue and come to some sort of resolution about the boycott, which began in 1999. Barrett was the only candidate asked if he would meet with the group.

But later in the debate, the entire GOP field was asked if the flag should be removed from the Statehouse grounds. All of them, including Barrett, said no.

"I think we have dealt with that issue, and I’m not willing to take a look at it right now," Barrett said.

Barrett spokesman B.J. Boling confirmed that his candidate is willing to meet with state NAACP representatives about ending their boycott. But he stressed that Barrett opposes removing the flag from the Statehouse grounds.

"The congressman feels like this issue has been dealt with in a bipartisan fashion, but he remains open to talking to various groups about the issues that are of concern to them," Boling said. "Saying he’s willing to talk to somebody but also saying he thinks the issue has been addressed, I don’t see how that’s contradictory."

Lonnie Randolph, the president of the South Carolina NAACP, said he would "absolutely" meet with Barrett about the flag if he becomes governor, despite the "wayward and disrespectful views" of all five Republican candidates. Barrett’s GOP primary opponents are Attorney General Henry McMaster, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, state Rep. Nikki Haley and state Sen. Larry Grooms.

"I think you learn things by having conversations," Randolph said of a possible sit-down with Barrett. "It’s obvious from his positions and his views that he is misinformed. I would be more than happy to share my views with him."

The Confederate battle flag was placed atop the Statehouse dome in 1962, but was removed from the dome in 2000 after a divisive political fight that spilled into national view. The flag was moved to a spot on the Statehouse grounds next to a memorial honoring Confederate soldiers.

But the flag still waves in full view of one of Columbia’s main thoroughfares, and the state NAACP has remained vocal. In July, the ACC decided to move its conference baseball tournament from Myrtle Beach to North Carolina after objections from the civil rights group.

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