Well, this is welcome news. In fact, the most welcome news I’ve seen out of the rather lackluster Sheheen campaign this year.
Vincent Sheheen is stepping out and taking a stand on something that speaks to the essence of who we are, who we have been and who we aspire to be as a state and as a people:
Democratic candidate for governor Vincent Sheheen tried to shake up the governor’s race in South Carolina on Wednesday, calling for the removal of the Confederate flag that flies on a pole in front of the Statehouse.
Sheheen, who is lagging in the polls, is the most prominent political voice to call for the removal of the flag — a somewhat quixotic attempt that would need a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate at a time when few others in the state are publicly demanding it.
The two-thirds vote requirement was included in a compromise 14 years ago that moved the flag from atop the Capitol dome to a place just a few feet south of a monument honoring Confederate soldiers on one of the state’s busiest streets.
The state senator from Camden has proposed replacing the Confederate flag at its new location with an American flag. The American and South Carolina flags still fly over the Statehouse.
“I want South Carolina to be celebrated not as the state that left America, but as the best state in America,” Sheheen said….
As Bryan Caskey observed to me via email, Sheheen must have been listening to Doug Ross, who has repeatedly urged him on this blog to take this stand. Perhaps — although Doug won’t be satisfied until Sheheen also comes out “for gay marriage, legalized marijuana, and casinos in Myrtle Beach.”
That’s Doug. Me, I’m just glad to see Vincent do this. He’s taking a stand. A quixotic one to be sure, the way the Legislature has rigged the deal. But it’s the right stand. And it offers a clear contrast, if you’ll recall the way Nikki groveled before neoConfederates four years ago.
Let me clarify a couple of points here. First, the Legislature didn’t just codify the flying on the flag in the 2000 “compromise.” They did that back when the GOP first took over the House in 1995, shortly after I started writing extensively (my detractors would say obsessively) about the issue.
Second, this is not a new contrast between Sheheen and Haley. Sheheen indicated his openness to removing the flag four years ago. What he’s done now is shift from that passive stance to an active one, and put forth a specific plan.
I tell you what I’d like to see now: I’d like to see Joe Riley and others who have shown courage on this issue in the past get enthusiastically and visibly behind this effort, rallying the forces — in business, church, civil rights and other leadership circles — that came together in 2000 to get the flag off the dome.
It’s time to rally around the cause of putting this issue behind us forever, placing it in the museums and history books where it belongs. So we can move forward as South Carolinians, as one people, without this nonsense dividing us.
Some will say — as they have said after each of the hundreds of times I’ve called for removing the flag — that this is a distraction, that it is not a serious or core issue. But I assert that if we are not a state that can muster the courage and good sense to dispense with this flying of a divisive relic on our state’s front lawn, then we are not equal to tackling any of the challenges before us.
In my last column for The State, I wrote about South Carolina’s unfinished business — the need for reform in government, in education, in taxation. All of the things I wrote about were complex issue that would take a lot of heavy policy lifting, except for two, which I mentioned at the end:
Some of these things are tough; others are less so. But they are all essential to getting our act together in South Carolina. To help us warm up for the harder ones, I suggest we do the following immediately:
• Raise our lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax by a dollar, bringing us (almost) to the national average, and saving thousands of young lives.
• Remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
While those last two are easier to implement, they are essential to proving to the world and ourselves that we are serious about building a better South Carolina. The reasons that have been offered not to do those two, simple things are not reasons in any rational sense, but rather outgrowths of the mind-sets that have held us back since 1865.
Which is long enough.
We sort of halfway addressed the first of those two easy, no-brainer actions. It’s far past time to address the other.