- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 22, 2002

RICHMOND The chairman of the state Democratic Party sent an open letter Friday to former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, rebutting Mr. Wilder's public criticism of a Democratic congressional candidate's campaign use of Confederate imagery.
Ben Jones, who starred in "The Dukes of Hazzard" television series, has no racist motive in using the show's famous "General Lee" hot rod with a Confederate flag painted on its roof, party chairman Lawrence H. Framme III said in his 1,020-word response to Mr. Wilder.
Mr. Framme also noted that Mr. Wilder, a Democrat and the nation's first elected black governor, conspicuously scheduled campaign ads to air during "The Dukes of Hazzard" reruns in his successful 1985 race for lieutenant governor.
"Knowing your deep commitment to civil rights, I am confident that you would not have placed paid advertising on 'Dukes of Hazzard' [reruns] if you believed its constant display of the Confederate Battle Flag on an automobile was an affront to any voters, particularly African-Americans," Mr. Framme wrote in the letter, which the party provided to reporters.
In his own open letter to Mr. Framme on Thursday, Mr. Wilder criticized Mr. Jones' use of the Confederate flag to attract white voters in the rural and suburban 7th District where he is challenging U.S. Rep. Eric I. Cantor, a Republican and voiced his dismay that the party was not denouncing it.
In an interview, Mr. Wilder said the use of the flag is a slap in the face to black voters, a vital Democratic constituency, and said party leaders "can't be involved in kowtowing to these subliminal messages."
Paul Goldman, a former state party chairman and close political adviser to Mr. Wilder, defended Mr. Wilder's use of campaign ads during "The Dukes of Hazzard," saying he was trying to reach young voters. He also said Mr. Framme's letter proves that Mr. Jones' use of Confederate symbols is a deliberate strategy.
Mr. Framme wrote on Friday that the Confederate flag is "a historic symbol that means different things to different people," and he lamented that hate groups have hijacked it as a symbol of racism and bigotry.
"Legitimate groups celebrating their Southern heritage in ways that condemn racism but extol universal virtues, such as gentility, truth and honor, use it," Mr. Framme wrote.
He burnished his point by noting that in the June 1999 dedication for downtown Richmond's historical Canal Walk, Mr. Wilder stood and saluted a Confederate flag draped on the side of a foot bridge as the small boat carrying him along the canal passed beneath it.
"You rightly noted at that time that there was 'enough room on [the] wall' for a Confederate symbol that is part of Virginia history," Mr. Framme noted.
Mr. Wilder's comments at the time, however, were directed at a mural of Gen. Robert E. Lee on the large, concrete flood wall hundreds of feet away. The wall shields the Canal Walk from the James River.
Mr. Jones' portrayal of the genial, down-home mechanic Cooter Davenport on "The Dukes of Hazzard" helped him win two terms in Congress from Georgia a decade ago. He said that invoking his background to appeal to rural voters in no way is racist.
"We're not trying to refight the war. We're just proud of our Southern heritage. We're NASCAR Democrats," he said.
Mr. Framme wrote to Wilder: "He [Mr. Jones] is a lifetime member of the NAACP. Like you, Ben condemns bigotry and racism and has fought against it throughout his public life. Also like you, Ben embodies the American dream."
The state's two top elected Democrats, Gov. Mark R. Warner and Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, have disavowed the use of Confederate imagery in campaigns.
"Ben and I just agree to disagree on the issue of the Confederate flag," Mr. Warner, who has endorsed Mr. Jones, said Friday.

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