Well, this is welcome news. In fact, the most welcome news I’ve seen out of the rather lackluster Sheheen campaign this year.

Vincent Sheheen is stepping out and taking a stand on something that speaks to the essence of who we are, who we have been and who we aspire to be as a state and as a people:

Democratic candidate for governor Vincent Sheheen tried to shake up the governor’s race in South Carolina on Wednesday, calling for the removal of the Confederate flag that flies on a pole in front of the Statehouse.

Sheheen, who is lagging in the polls, is the most prominent political voice to call for the removal of the flag — a somewhat quixotic attempt that would need a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate at a time when few others in the state are publicly demanding it.

The two-thirds vote requirement was included in a compromise 14 years ago that moved the flag from atop the Capitol dome to a place just a few feet south of a monument honoring Confederate soldiers on one of the state’s busiest streets.

The state senator from Camden has proposed replacing the Confederate flag at its new location with an American flag. The American and South Carolina flags still fly over the Statehouse.

“I want South Carolina to be celebrated not as the state that left America, but as the best state in America,” Sheheen said….

As Bryan Caskey observed to me via email, Sheheen must have been listening to Doug Ross, who has repeatedly urged him on this blog to take this stand. Perhaps — although Doug won’t be satisfied until Sheheen also comes out “for gay marriage, legalized marijuana, and casinos in Myrtle Beach.”

That’s Doug. Me, I’m just glad to see Vincent do this. He’s taking a stand. A quixotic one to be sure, the way the Legislature has rigged the deal. But it’s the right stand. And it offers a clear contrast, if you’ll recall the way Nikki groveled before neoConfederates four years ago.

Let me clarify a couple of points here. First, the Legislature didn’t just codify the flying on the flag in the 2000 “compromise.” They did that back when the GOP first took over the House in 1995, shortly after I started writing extensively (my detractors would say obsessively) about the issue.

Second, this is not a new contrast between Sheheen and Haley. Sheheen indicated his openness to removing the flag four years ago. What he’s done now is shift from that passive stance to an active one, and put forth a specific plan.

I tell you what I’d like to see now: I’d like to see Joe Riley and others who have shown courage on this issue in the past get enthusiastically and visibly behind this effort, rallying the forces — in business, church, civil rights and other leadership circles — that came together in 2000 to get the flag off the dome.

It’s time to rally around the cause of putting this issue behind us forever, placing it in the museums and history books where it belongs. So we can move forward as South Carolinians, as one people, without this nonsense dividing us.

Some will say — as they have said after each of the hundreds of times I’ve called for removing the flag — that this is a distraction, that it is not a serious or core issue. But I assert that if we are not a state that can muster the courage and good sense to dispense with this flying of a divisive relic on our state’s front lawn, then we are not equal to tackling any of the challenges before us.

In my last column for The State, I wrote about South Carolina’s unfinished business — the need for reform in government, in education, in taxation. All of the things I wrote about were complex issue that would take a lot of heavy policy lifting, except for two, which I mentioned at the end:

Some of these things are tough; others are less so. But they are all essential to getting our act together in South Carolina. To help us warm up for the harder ones, I suggest we do the following immediately:

Raise our lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax by a dollar, bringing us (almost) to the national average, and saving thousands of young lives.

Remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.

While those last two are easier to implement, they are essential to proving to the world and ourselves that we are serious about building a better South Carolina. The reasons that have been offered not to do those two, simple things are not reasons in any rational sense, but rather outgrowths of the mind-sets that have held us back since 1865.

Which is long enough.

We sort of halfway addressed the first of those two easy, no-brainer actions. It’s far past time to address the other.


  1. Harry Harris

    Whoopee! What a super-relevant issue to distinguish a campaign! I marched twice years ago to get it off the statehouse roof, but I don’t see what he’s up to here. If he governs like he campaigns, he will be little better than the disingenuous grandstander we’ve got now. He’s been an accomplished legislator, able to work with allies and adversaries as well to get stuff done. I just don’t see anything in his campaign that looks inspiring, and cannot understand (or accept) his letting his campaign let him look like a ho hum negative campaigner.

  2. Karen Pearson

    As much as I would like to see the flag put in a museum where it belongs, I suspect that Mr. Sheheen has just ensured that we have 4 more years of Gov. Haley.

  3. Matt Bohn

    Have you seen the display at the State Museum for the Confederate flags that adorned the state house chambers as required by law due to the compromise of 2000? They all but hid them in a dark corner. It seems to to me that the flags are an embarrassment. The flag is an “in your face” statement that speaks volumes of the reason the flag was hoisted in 1962 regarding the civil rights movement. I agree that the battle flag should come down so we can move forwards without shame.

  4. Barry

    It’s a good move- but much too late. He should have kicked off his campaign with this annoucement – and others.

    Sadly, this just looks like a way to fire up some folks and drive his turnout. Yet, another example of what a miserable campaign his folks have fun.

    and I’m sure the Wintrop poll being released this week showing him trailing Haley by double digits had nothing at all to do with this annnoucement… – yeah- ….. uh…… sure

  5. Doug Ross

    If he wants to win, he has to decide to run as a Democrat, not as an almost Republican. He absolutely cannot win without the black community coming out in full force. The flag is a symbolic issue that can help spur that on.

    Democrats want change on a variety of issues that will never happen under Haley. The flag, gay rights, Medicaid expansion, gun control… those are topics where he could demonstrate a clear choice and put Haley on the defensive. His campaign staff has consistently and foolishly picked the wrong topics to focus on. The DOR hacking problem had zero traction. It’s impossible to really tie Haley to the DSS problems.

    You want a campaign ad that will motivate voters? Here you go:

    Open with a shot of the Confederate flag and a group of black children surrounding it. The kids say in unison “Nikki Haley believes we shouldn’t care about this flag”.
    Next, show a gay male couple and a gay female couple (one young couple, one older) standing side by side holding hands. They say “Nikki Haley believes we don’t have the same rights as everyone else in South Carolina”
    Next show a family (mom, dad, a couple kids) sitting on a backporch in a rural area. Mom says “Nikki Haley believes our kids don’t deserve a quality education or access to healthcare”
    Finally show a black mother holding a photo of a teenage son killed by a handgun. She says “Nikki Haley believes we don’t have a problem with guns in this state.”
    Tagline “Do you believe what Nikki Haley believes? Vincent Sheheen doesn’t.”

    1. Bryan Caskey

      “The flag, gay rights, Medicaid expansion, gun control… those are topics where he could demonstrate a clear choice and put Haley on the defensive.”


      Flag: Sure, take it down. It’s a symbolic thing that is easy to do. Maybe we can finally get a bowl game here.

      Gay Rights: Absolutely. Let’s expand civil rights for all folks. I assume you mean gay marriage, specifically.

      Medicaid: Eh, I’m not crazy about that, but sure he can support it. (not going to have that argument now).

      Gun Control: ?? What? You’re going from expanding rights for homosexuals to now curtailing gun rights for lawful people? The poor policy choice of gun control aside, Sheheen coming out for gun control would mobilize a huge amount of energy against him. That’s just a bad political move, even if you hypothetically think the policy is good (which it is not).

      Keep the focus on jobs, like you said earlier. If Sheheen comes out for gun control, he’s absolutely sunk regardless of what else he proposes.

      1. Doug Ross

        Bryan – I’m not saying I agree that gun control is an issue.. I am definitely on the “guns don’t kill people” side — but from a strategy point of view, it’s a topic that can energize Democratic voters.

        I am looking at this from the perspective of what he could do to WIN, not what I agree with.

        He needs a fired up Democratic base looking at this election as a choice between progress on liberal topics or four more years of the same thing.

        He is not going to win conservatives. He’s not going to win on 4K kindergarten or trying to exaggerate the impact of the DOR scandal.

        Give the blue staters some red meat to chew on. Go big or go home.

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      I agree. He has been running as the candidate nudged up against Nikki Haley’s left side way too much.
      Take stands. Bold ones!

    3. Brad Warthen Post author

      Doug and Kathryn seem to be assuming that Sheheen agrees with him on those other issues. At least, I HOPE you wouldn’t urge him to take stands he doesn’t believe in.

      We know that he does NOT agree with you on same-sex marriage. He’s said so, despite what that does to his support within his own party. Those of you who think he’s failed to show courage on that seem to have it backward. It’s not cowardly to fail to support something you oppose. I would think that would be obvious, regardless of your own position.

      I don’t know where he stands on gun control. I know he owns guns and is a hunter. That might make him a particularly effective advocate for reasonable controls, of course — IF he supports them. And I have no idea. And I wouldn’t urge him to enrage the NRA on this — ALL of the passion and determination on this issue lies with those who oppose any and all gun control — unless you could convince me this was somehow a core issue for a South Carolina governor. Which I fail to see at this point.

      I certainly hope he’s not for marijuana legalization.

      As for Medicaid expansion, his strong stand is on the record. I don’t see it being a game-changer.

      But the flag issue COULD be, both in terms of his political chances, and in terms of our chances of putting this absurdity behind us once and for all.

      He’s taken the right stand, on the right issue.

      Which I elaborate upon in this separate post

      1. Doug Ross

        “hose of you who think he’s failed to show courage on that seem to have it backward.”

        I don’t think it has to do with courage. I think it has to do with him being wrong. As wrong as the flag flying over the State House, denying people the right to marry is far “wronger”.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    As much as I agree that Vincent should loudly tout his position in favor of Medicaid expansion — opposing it is insanely irresponsible in a state as poor and unhealthy as South Carolina — neither it nor any of the others is as core to what South Carolina is about.

    Taking down the flag is. It’s a decision about who we are and who we want to be, and it has more meaning here than in any other state. And that’s why it’s crucial for anyone who would lead this state to step out on this issue.

    1. Barry

      He should also come out proposing that school children in South Carolina should receive free school lunches every day paid for by South Carolina. (The feds would reimburse us for probably half of it).

      My wife tells me some tough stories every day (just this week) of school kids at her school crying because they can’t eat a regular lunch at school (jut a cheese sandwich) because their parents haven’t taken the time to apply for free or reduced lunches (The parents don’t give a rip).

      She told me today one child was cries almost every day at lunch. They have called the parent numerous times- they’ve got a social worker involved- all to no avail. The parent doesn’t care. Won’t apply for free lunch – and won’t pay for lunch.

      Sheheen should propose to feed them all – free. It can be done. It should be done.

    1. Barry

      Most of South Carolina is for removing it. Some are too nervous to say so.

      But it would be popular – and it should be done.

  7. Harry Harris

    The underpinning for originally raising that flag over the statehouse was the states’ rights, defiant, regionalism directed at the civil rights action going on at the time. It was to a great extent a sign to black citizens that they lacked the political clout needed to not “stay in their place.” It has morphed, with different but related issues attached to be an anti-federal government symbol, and is sometimes used by politicians to shore-up support from citizens whose views range from blatant racism to “I’m not prejudiced, but…” to thoughts that the Feds are going to dictate school curricula. Removing the flag will not change either law or sentiment. It might, however, lower the subtle message received by many black persons that they still count around 3/5ths at best. We, indeed need to more forward as one community, but the idea of community has been so far removed from our political discourse, that I don’t see any change not brought about by a strong, imminent threat.


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