While South Carolina’s state legislators debated whether to debate taking down the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds, Alabama’s governor directed the four flags flying over a memorial in his state’s Capitol grounds be removed — and by Wednesday morning they were gone.
“This is the right thing to do,” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told AL.com. “We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward.”
Bentley said his decision was “partially” in response to the Charleston massacre and subsequent public pressure to have the Confederate symbol removed, as well as to avoid drawn-out political fights over the flag. Bentley told AL.com that prior to sending workers out to physically take down the flags, he confirmed there were no state laws or policies that would prevent him from doing so.
That is not the case in South Carolina, where Gov. Nikki Haley this week called for the flag to be removed from her state’s Capitol grounds, but due to a state law passed in 2000 protecting Civil War symbols, the Confederate flag can only be removed with a vote of the state legislature. That body voted on Tuesday to allow debate on the flag later this summer.
According to The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston, which started a count of where lawmakers stand on the flag, it appeared by midday Wednesday that the Senate has achieved the two-thirds majority necessary to remove the flag. Among those in the House, nearly a quarter had not responded and 10 percent still were undecided.
Despite good intentions to remove the flag, any actions will come too late to pay respect to State Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME Church, whose body is lying in the state not far from where the controversial flag still flies on the Statehouse grounds.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, the House minority leader, said Gov. Haley should take down the Confederate flag down for “repairs” while Sen. Pinckney’s body lies in state at the Capitol on Wednesday, adding that South Carolina law does give Haley the power to take the flag down for repairs.
“I hope that the governor would look up at the flag, as I did yesterday, and notice that it looks a little wind-torn,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And those repairs may take the four hours that his body’s at least going to lay in the rotunda.”
A spokesperson for Haley said the governor does not have the authority to remove the flag herself.
In Virginia on Tuesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe moved to have the Confederate flag banished from state license plates, and in Mississippi, the lieutenant governor said voters, not legislators, should decide whether to excise the Confederate emblem from the state flag.