South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Monday for legislators to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the Statehouse.
Republican Haley, the state’s first minority and first female governor, acted in the wake of the massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church last week, where nine people, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, D-Jasper, were killed by a 21-year-old white supremacist.
“Today, we are here in a moment of unity in our state, without ill will, to say it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds,” Haley said. “One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War . . . the time has come.”
South Carolina legislators return Tuesday to Columbia for a special session to pass the state budget and could add the flag issue to their agenda. They then could debate the issue when they return to Columbia in July to handle budget vetoes.
Still, removing the controversial emblem could be difficult. State law requires two-thirds of House and Senate members must vote to move the flag.
Haley said Monday she will call lawmakers back to Columbia this summer if they do not act.
In 2000, the flag was moved from the Statehouse’s Capitol dome, where it had flown since 1962, to behind a monument to Confederate soldiers located in front of the State House, at the intersection of Gervais and Main streets.
However, that compromise did not end protests about the flag’s presence. The NAACP called for a tourist boycott of the state, and S.C. Democratic leaders have asked repeatedly for the flag’s removal.
Haley was joined Monday by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Republicans present included U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of Seneca and Tim Scott of Charleston; U.S. Reps. Mark Sanford of Charleston and Tom Rice of Myrtle Beach; and state Sen. John Courson of Richland County. Democrats included U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, Mayor Joe Riley of Charleston and S.C. House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford of Richland County.
Rutherford said he had never seen a bipartisan effort as strong.
“We’re going to try to carry on Senator Pinckney’s legacy and make South Carolina a better place,” Rutherford said, adding the state will “not allow the Confederate battle flag to determine our future as much as it has stained our past.”
After working with House leaders the past few days, Rutherford said he thinks the House is ready to vote to take down the flag.
“Now is the time to put people above politics,” said state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland. “We lost nine souls during this tragedy, and I look forward to having the conversations with my colleagues to put this issue to rest in the coming weeks.”
In a statement, House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said: “Moving South Carolina forward from this terrible tragedy requires a swift resolution of this issue.”
Haley’s action Monday came after local and national calls for the flag’s removal.
After Wednesday’s mass slaying, more than 1,500 people gathered at a hastily organized rally Saturday at the Statehouse to demand the flag’s removal.
National political leaders also joined that call.
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, said he thinks the flag belongs in a museum.
Over the weekend, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, R-Mass., and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, one of the leading contenders for the GOP’s 2016 nomination, said they supported removing the flag.
Other GOP candidates for president – Ohio Gov. John Kasich, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – quickly endorsed Haley’s call Monday.
Earlier Monday at a news conference, Charleston leaders – including Mayor Riley, North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey and Democratic state Reps. Leon Stavrinakis and Wendell Gilliard and state Sen. Marlon Kimpson – called for the flag’s removal.
University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides, athletics director Ray Tanner and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley also called for the flag to come down on Monday, as did Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.
For many people, the Confederate flag stands for noble traditions of history, heritage and ancestry, Haley said Monday.
“The hate-filled murderer who massacred our brothers and sisters in Charleston has a sick and twisted view of the flag. In no way does he reflect the people in our state who respect, and in many ways, revere it,” she said. “At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”
And, she added, the Statehouse’s grounds should belong to all South Carolinians.
Haley hinted there was urgency for lawmakers to act. “July Fourth is just around the corner,” she said. “Soon we will once again celebrate the birth of our nation and our freedoms. It will be fitting that our state Capitol will soon fly the flags of our country and of our state, and no others.”