- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 12, 2002

ATLANTA (AP) When Republican Sonny Perdue was running for governor, he pounded Gov. Roy Barnes for changing Georgia's flag and promised to let voters decide whether to bring back the old banner, dominated by the Confederate emblem.
But in the week since Mr. Perdue ousted the Democrat in a historic upset, he has sounded much less eager to take on the racially divisive issue that could cost Georgia millions in tourist dollars.
"My goal is to have this state heal, to be reconciled from a standpoint of bitter partisanship and the issues that would divide us," Mr. Perdue said during a victory tour of the state.
The governor-elect said the referendum idea "is something we will look at with the leadership once the leadership gets in place in the House and Senate and make a decision on how we will resolve the issue."
On the campaign trail, Mr. Perdue had promised to back a referendum that would allow Georgians to choose from the old banner, dominated by the red-and-blue Confederate battle cross, and the new one, with the gold seal of Georgia on a blue field and a tiny image of the old flag near the bottom. Mr. Barnes rammed the new one through the state Legislature last year.
Though polls had shown Mr. Perdue badly trailing the Democrat incumbent, who outspent him by a 6-to-1 margin, he pulled off perhaps the nation's most stunning upset on Election Day. Mr. Perdue defeated Mr. Barnes by a margin of more than 100,000 votes to become Georgia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
If Mr. Perdue does not deliver on promises of a flag referendum, he could face the same kind of anger Mr. Barnes drew from supporters of the old flag, who say the Confederate emblem is a tribute to Georgia's history.
"I'd be disappointed. I wouldn't feel like he kept his word to the people of Georgia," said retired police officer Terry Rumph, who attended a Perdue victory rally wearing a cap with a cloth emblem of the old flag.
Black politicians oppose a referendum.
"That will take us back to the dark days of racial polarization," said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, Atlanta Democrat.
The new flag was pushed quickly through the Legislature last year in a surprise move by Mr. Barnes, who secretly organized support for the measure before introducing it.
But supporters of the old flag dogged Mr. Barnes at every public event, waving hundreds of the old flags. Slogans such as "Boot Barnes. Let Us Vote" and "Change the governor, keep the flag," were popular on T-shirts, signs and bumper stickers.
In last week's election, Mr. Perdue won 95 of the 96 Georgia counties that are more than 65 percent white including the booming suburbs of Atlanta and Mr. Barnes' native Cobb County. Four years ago, Mr. Barnes won 55 of those 96 counties.
Mr. Perdue, 55, a former state senator, said anger over the issue was only a small reason he was able to defeat Mr. Barnes.
"The people offended by the flag change were only a small constituency of the people offended by Roy Barnes' arrogant abuse of power," he said. "They represent a small piece."

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