Democratic candidate for governor State Sen. Vincent Sheheen said Wednesday that he will push to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds if he is elected and replace it with an American flag.
Sheheen spoke at a joint campaign event Wednesday just steps away from the flag that sits in front of the state Capitol building in Columbia.
“I want South Carolina to be celebrated not for the state that left America, but as the best state in America,” the senator from Kershaw County said. “It’s time we celebrated that heritage.” He showed a letter signed by eight mayors with Democratic Party ties (including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley) which stated the flag should be “reverently moved to a museum.”
After years of debate, state legislators agreed in 2000 to a compromise that moved the flag off the capitol dome and placed it next to the Confederate Soldiers’ Monument. Neither Sheheen nor incumbent Republican Gov. Nikki Haley had been elected to seats in the Statehouse at that point. A handful of groups like the NAACP and the NCAA still boycott the state, saying the flag needs to be off the grounds entirely.
Sheheen had not publicly committed to moving the flag before Wednesday. During the 2010 gubernatorial primaries, he did tell the Associated Press he would like “to resolve that issue in a way that helps us move past this fight.”
Haley has previously said she agreed with the 2000 compromise, doubting the legislature has the necessary two-thirds vote to move the flag. Her spokesman Rob Godfrey did not return South Carolina Radio Network’s request for comment on Wednesday afternoon, but he told the Associated Press that Sheheen’s push slightly more than a month before Election Day was desperate and irresponsible.
“If the General Assembly wants to revisit the issue that’s fine,” Godfrey told the news service. “But any such effort should be done in a thoughtful bipartisan way and not in the heat of the political campaign season.”
During the press conference, Sheheen was asked if he would introduce legislation to move the flag should he lose November’s election and return to the Senate in January. He responded that he plans to work with legislators “as governor.”
Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor State Rep. Bakari Sellers also spoke at the event Wednesday. His father Cleveland Sellers helped lead 600 marchers from Charleston to Columbia fourteen years ago to protest the flag’s presence atop the Statehouse dome. The younger Sellers said he participated in the march as a teen.
“This is also a feel-good issue for all South Carolinians. This is about so many people who have given up so much to come together and bring this state together,” Sellers said.