Another referendum on state flag is proposed

By JIM GALLOWAY, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

An influential Democrat on Thursday offered the first public alternative to Gov. Sonny Perdue’s proposed referendum on the state flag.

There would be two separate votes four months apart next year, and they could overlap with next year’s presidential and U.S. Senate contests. But unlike the governor’s proposal, the Democratic referendum would be binding: voters would get the final choice.

House Majority Leader Jimmy Skipper (D-Americus) made it clear that his proposal was intended to test the attitude of Democrats — African-American lawmakers in particular — toward a statewide vote that would include the Confederate battle emblem.

"I hate to use the phrase of running it up the flag pole and see who salutes, but that’s what we’re going to be in the process of doing," said Skipper, who spoke to reporters at a Capitol news conference.

Perdue has proposed a statewide referendum held on one day, March 4, 2004. Voters would first be asked to participate in an up-or-down vote on the current state flag. Then voters would be asked to make a second choice, between the "Stars and Bars" flag that flew before 1956; or the state flag hauled down in 2001, with its dominant Confederate battle emblem. The referendum would be only advisory; the Legislature would have the final say.

Skipper said Perdue’s proposal would confuse voters. Under the majority leader’s version, the two sections of the flag referendum would be separated.

The first, up-or-down vote on the current state flag would be held next March. If the current flag won, the process would end.

If it lost, a second, binding vote would be held "between two flags" during the July primary, Skipper said.

Which two flags hasn’t been decided, Skipper said. The majority leader said he hadn’t polled his Democratic colleagues to see whether they would accept as a ballot choice the old state flag and its Rebel cross.

"We’ve mainly been working on the legal issues up to this point. We’re going to talk to everybody and see what they think," said Skipper, who did not say which flag he favors. "To my way of thinking, the governor promised a vote on the ’56 flag. And I think it would be difficult for him not to have it on the ballot. Unless he changes his mind."

House Speaker Pro Tempore Dubose Porter (D-Dublin), who appeared before reporters with Skipper, said: "I think what we’re searching for is some way to make [the vote] simple, clear and engaging."

Many African-American political leaders have said they would urge a boycott of any vote that included the Confederate battle emblem. Briefed on Skipper’s proposal, state Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), who spent two decades trying to bring down the old flag and its battle emblem, said he would "continue to discuss" the proposal with Skipper.

But Brooks didn’t think many black lawmakers would budge.

The flag referendum will be one of the first issues the Legislature takes up when it resumes on March 24. Republicans on Thursday said they will formally ask House leaders to act on the governor’s proposal, which has lain untouched in the House Rules Committee since it was introduced a month ago.

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