By Paul Gable
The SC House passed second and third readings of the bill to take down the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds early Thursday morning.
The readings were on a clean bill with no amendments, something that was needed to bring the flag down quickly.
The debate was long, emotional, full of passion and often contentious. Debate started before at approximately 11:30 a.m. and continued past midnight with an afternoon break from approximately 2:15 – 4:30 p.m.
In the end, House members worked their way through delaying tactics to pass both readings by votes well above the two-thirds threshold needed to take the flag down.
Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to sign the legislation before the day is done. The bill calls for the flag to come down within 24 hours of the governor’s signature.
There was a lot of talk about the Confederate flag being a symbol that was hijacked by hate groups. If the flag was, in fact, hijacked that hijacking was first done by Southern politicians who opposed the Civil Rights movement.
That point was made over and over through the long day.
One speaker after another from both sides of the aisle said, “that flag needs to come down.”
But, many attempts to slow down the fast track the bill was on came through attempted amendments.
The SC House initially faced the possibility of dealing with over 60 amendments to the bill that passed the SC Senate.
During the debate, number of amendments were withdrawn, others tabled and some ruled out of order with the sine die resolution calling for a debate on the flag. Nevertheless, something in excess of 20 were dealt with in debate.
Several amendments offering a compromise by replacing the Confederate flag with the flag of the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment were verbally supported by Reps. Tommy Pope, Eric Bedingfield, Mike Gambrell, Mike Pitts and others.
Rep. Jenny Horne was having none of the delaying process. Horne said she was a descendent of Confederate President Jefferson Davis but that she had “heard enough about heritage.”
In a tearful, impassioned plea, Horne asked the House to reject all amendments and to pass the bill that came over from the Senate “to take a symbol of hate from these grounds (by) Friday.”
Rep. Joe Neal spoke eloquently about the African American point of view toward the Confederate flag and why it needed to come down immediately. He said the concept of grace works both ways.
“I may not be able to celebrate your heritage with you, but I can recognize your need to celebrate it for yourself.”
But, Horne said the whole world was watching to see if South Carolina was ready to change or if it was going to continue to hide its racism and bigotry behind the excuse of heritage.
Early in the day, amendments that were voted on lost by an average of approximately 80 to 20. But after the afternoon break the dynamics in the SC House began to change.
As the debate wore on into the night hours, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter called it like it was.
“We are in a posture of delay, delay, delay,” said Cobb-Hunter. “It’s hard for me to believe you are serious about removing this flag in a timely manner when all you do is delay.”
Cobb-Hunter called out speaker Jay Lucas, and Reps. Chip Limehouse, Jim Merrill and Rick Quinn as leading that delaying strategy.
It was Quinn who hit on an amendment dealing with requesting the Confederate Relic Room to establish a plan and budget to deal with the Confederate flag, if it is removed, that brought the longest delay moving the debate into the early morning hours.
A final attempt to delay was made when the House voted 60-60 on an amendment to replace the Confederate flag with the state flag.
However, even that attempt eventually failed and second reading of a clean bill passed the House. This was followed quickly with a third reading vote of 94-20. The bill now needs to be ratified and sent to Gov. Nikki Haley for her signature.
The day displayed all the messiness of American representative democracy, but many of the things that also make it fascinating.
Several of the representatives gave truly eloquent speeches. Rep. Tommy Pope comes to mind speaking on an amendment to replace the Confederate flag with 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment flag and Cobb-Hunter who was strident and forceful as she slammed the delaying tactics.
But, it was Horne, Jefferson Davis’ descendent, who best exhibited the deep feelings, raw emotion and passion with which a majority of South Carolinians now identify the need to take the Confederate flag down from the statehouse grounds quickly.