- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

RICHMOND The nation's first elected black governor has chastised the Democratic Party over the use of Confederate flag imagery by the congressional campaign of Democrat Ben "Cooter" Jones.
In a letter sent to top state party officials Thursday, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, expressed alarm that the party has not objected to Mr. Jones' use of the flag to try to win over rural voters in his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.
"Apparently, and now with the full concurrence of the Democratic Party both in Virginia and nationally, the Democratic congressional candidate for the 7th District of Virginia is using his flying of a confederate flag as a campaign strategy," Mr. Wilder wrote.
The situation is "of great concern to the broad body of responsible Virginians, especially the over 900,000 Virginians who voted for Governor Warner and Lieutenant Governor Kaine last year," Mr. Wilder wrote, referring to Mark R. Warner and Timothy M. Kaine.
Mr. Jones' campaign said Thursday that Mr. Jones does not fly the flag at his home nor his business. Campaign spokesman Ben Tribbett said the flag appears only on the roof of an automobile made famous by the 1970s television series "Dukes of Hazzard" that Mr. Jones, a star in the series, uses in his campaign.
State Democratic Party Chairman Lawrence H. Framme III was traveling outside the state and responded to Mr. Wilder's letter by e-mail.
"Anyone who takes time to examine his [Mr. Jones] record will find he has been a committed supporter of civil rights since the time of the freedom marches in the 1960s and is a lifetime member of the NAACP," Mr. Framme wrote.
Mr. Wilder, the grandson of slaves whose 1989 election in the former seat of the Confederacy surprised the nation, said in an interview that the use of the flag in a political campaign is a slap in the face to black voters.
"All my political life and legislative life, I have been railing against this very thing," said Mr. Wilder, who ordered Confederate flag patches stripped off the uniforms of the Virginia Air National Guard after he took office in 1990.
"Without the people who are offended by this, where would the Democratic Party be? There has to be some recognition by the party leadership that they can't be involved in kowtowing to these subliminal messages," Mr. Wilder said.
Mr. Wilder's letter came a day after a Jones fund-raising luncheon in Richmond at which Republicans distributed pamphlets noting Mr. Jones' use of Confederate icons in appealing to white, rural voters who typically vote Republican.
"He proudly flies the Confederate flag and is making Southern heritage a major part of his campaign," says the flier, published by Mr. Cantor's campaign. It also says Mr. Cantor "believes everyone is entitled to their own opinions about Southern heritage. However, he is a United States congressman, and he is focused on the issues of today."
Mr. Wilder is not the only Democrat to differ with Mr. Jones on the use of the Confederate battle flag.
Mr. Warner has endorsed Mr. Jones and spoken at his fund-raiser but does not share his affection for things Confederate.
"The governor and Mister Jones have agreed to disagree about the appropriate commemoration of Southern heritage," said Warner press secretary Ellen Qualls.
Mr. Kaine, the former mayor of Richmond, said he also has concerns about the message the flag sends, even when no offense is intended in flying it.
Mr. Jones portrayed Cooter Davenport, the good old boy mechanic in the "Dukes of Hazzard." Among his campaign props has been the General Lee, the orange Dodge Charger with the Confederate flag painted on its roof that the Duke boys drove in the show.
In discussing the Cantor campaign's flier, Mr. Jones told about 200 supporters at his fund-raiser that he has no problem honoring his Confederate ancestors but noted that he also took part in civil rights marches in the 1960s. He said he was in a gunbattle with Ku Klux Klan members in the 1960s near Chapel Hill, N.C.
"The General Lee has a rebel flag on its top and it's beloved all over the country," Mr. Jones said.
"We're not trying to refight the war. We're just proud of our Southern heritage," he said. "We're NASCAR Democrats, and our priorities are right where they always were: Take care of mama 'n them, and make sure the kids get a good education."

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