Former Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush called the Confederate battle flag a “racist” symbol during an appearance at a West Columbia pharmaceutical plant Monday and said he believed South Carolina is doing the right thing by removing it.
“South Carolina wants to be viewed as the host of this great business. I think most South Carolinians are proud of Boeing, they’re proud of the businesses that have come here,” he told about a hundred employees gathered at Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corporation. “And anything that gets in the way of that vision… ought to be put aside, while doing it respectfully.”
The Confederate battle flag at the Statehouse has suddenly become the hottest issue in South Carolina politics in the weeks after a white supremacist was charged with murdering nine black members of a Charleston AME Church on June 17. That individual 21-year-old Dylann Roof posted numerous photos online of himself posing with Confederate paraphernalia — particularly the flag.
State leaders had been reluctant to take up the flag’s position in front of the Capitol suddenly went with the public momentum last week, starting with Gov. Nikki Haley’s own call for the flag to come down on June 22. Within days, a supermajority of legislators joined her in the call. It will take a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to remove the flag. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Columbia on July 6 for that debate.
Bush said he found himself in a similar position as Gov. Haley during the beginning of his term as governor, when neighboring Georgia was attracting controversy for Confederate symbols on its state flag. As that debate was occurring, Bush said he ordered similar Confederate-symbol flags from the Florida state capitol grounds in 2001.
“The symbols that have divided the South in many ways, the symbols that were used in the most recent modern history– not perhaps at the beginning– the symbols were racist,” he told the plant workers. “If you’re trying to lean forward rather than live in the past, you want to eliminate the barriers that create disagreements… And I applaud Gov. Haley for doing more or less the exact same thing under a lot of pressure.”The Confederate flag comments were the primary takeaway from most news outlets on Monday, but Bush spent most of his 30-minute question-and-answer period talking about business and education issues. He renewed calls to lower the unemployment rate through a growing economy, which he said would happen with less bureaucracy and regulations.
Most of those in attendance laughed appreciatively when Bush commented that he had been “thoroughly briefed” on Nephron’s own ongoing struggles with the Food and Drug Administration. “The amount of time it takes to approve a drug or biologic has almost doubled (in the last eight years). The cost to get that approval has almost doubled,” he said. “It used to be a lot simpler to get a medical device approved. Think of the people that are dying of diseases because we have created this complicated regulatory system on top of the most dynamic sector of our economy.”
Florida-based Nephron opened its West Columbia facility in June 2014 and currently has around 200 employees. Owners Bill and Lou Kennedy are also Florida natives who have supported Republicans in the past (they have close ties to Gov. Haley), but said Monday they are not publicly backing one candidate at this time.
The West Columbia facility creates respiratory drugs, but is awaiting FDA approval for a “compounding” (creating personalized medications) license to begin selling those drugs in the U.S. The FDA inspected the site in March.
Bush kept an optimistic outlook for the country’s future, but said it would only come with compromise and an end to partisan gridlock. “The notion that somehow Washington is broken irreparably and is never going to fixed is deeply disturbing to me,” he said. “Because if you accept that, you’re basically accepting the decline of our country. I, for one, am motivated to reverse that attitude.”
He was originally supposed to visit Charleston for a national security-centered speech on June 18 — the day after Roof gunned down nine Emanuel AME Church members. That appearance was canceled in response.
Instead, Bush met with about 50-60 mostly minority pastors at a North Charleston Doubletree Hilton hotel. The event, organized by State Rep. Samuel Rivers (a Goose Creek pastor and Bush supporter), was closed to the public and media. Bush said the Confederate flag and Charleston shooting were discussed, as was last week’s Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. “We talked more about broader things than political things, but it was a good dialogue and I appreciated it. I learned a lot.”