Rep. Burns issues statement on his 'no' vote on Confederate battle flag bill

TRAVELERS REST, S.C. – S.C. Dist. 17 Rep. Mike Burns (R) issued the following statement in reference to his recent "no" vote on the highly publicized bill to remove a Confederate battle flag from S.C. State House grounds:

"Some people may look at my 'no' vote on the bill removing the Confederate Naval Jack from the flag pole near the Confederate Soldiers Memorial on the South Carolina State House grounds and dismiss me as an unreconstructed rebel still trying to fight the War of Northern Aggression.

That is not the case.

The horrific shooting of nine innocent people at a Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last month led to the reopening of an issue that had been addressed in 2000: In what manner, if any, should the Confederate flag be displayed on South Carolina State House grounds?

The 2000 compromise removed a Confederate flag from atop the State House dome and replaced it with a more historically accurate version on a flag pole near the Confederate Soldiers Memorial on the State House grounds.

It was a compromise many on both sides of the issue did not like, but compromises often involve give and take.

Some of the staunchest supporters of the flag at that time were descendents of Confederate soldiers. They were concerned about the way the soldiers were portrayed as a part of the flag discussion. Many of the soldiers and sailors fighting for the Confederacy - and the Union as well - were poor or middle-class people who thought they were going to war to defend their homeland.

Some of my constituents contacted me to express concern that because they love their ancestors’ bravery and service they have been lumped — unjustly — into the same group as those who have used the Confederate flag as a means of expressing hatred.

Also, some constituents told me they feared removing the flag would mark another salvo in the ongoing assault on all things related to the Confederacy. Would memorials, monuments, buildings, roads and schools be safe from being purged or renamed for the sake of political correctness?

Actions taken in other states in recent days have suggested those fears are not unfounded. In addition, the U.S. House of Representatives this week voted to ban private groups from placing Confederate flags on the graves of Confederate soldiers at federal cemeteries in states that commemorate Confederate Memorial Day.

That brings us to this week’s votes in the S.C. Senate and House of Representatives.

In a headlong rush to pass a “clean bill” — one that mirrored the Senate version and thus avoid any need for meetings to resolved any differences — the majority of my colleagues in the House failed to give this bill the same due deliberation they give almost every other bill brought before us.

Willing to help our state mend any real or perceived divisions while still respecting the desires of my constituents, I reached out to the other side in compromise by supporting a number of proposals that would have removed what some call an “offensive” flag, because removing the flag was the stated goal.

The proposals included:

• A referendum to let the people of South Carolina decide the issue by popular vote;

• Replacing the Naval Jack with any of several Civil-War era flags, none of which closely resembles the flag at the center of the controversy;

• Replacing the Naval Jack with the South Carolina State Flag, the most beautiful state flag in the country; and

• Replacing the Naval Jack with a bronze flag similar in construction to the one on the African-American Monument on the State House grounds.

In each case, those on the other side of this issue chose expediency over acknowledging and addressing legitimate concerns from my constituents.

Since my efforts for compromise were rebuffed, I could not in good conscience vote for a bill hastily passed into law without concern for differing viewpoints.

With this issue now behind us, I want to emphasize my great pride regarding how my fellow South Carolinians of all races and creeds rallied in support of one another during the aftermath of the Mother Emanuel Church shootings. We didn’t come apart as some had hoped; we came together.

The Christian love and forgiveness expressed by the victims’ families in the aftermath of this tragedy has set a shining example for all of us to follow.

I hope that as we move forward we will continue to show the world that South Carolina is a special place in which to live."

—Rep. Mike Burns