- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Charleston church massacre threw South Carolina’s use of the Confederate flag back into play as a 2016 election issue, but Republicans presidential candidates insist the issue belongs to the state, not candidates for federal office.

But former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee swung back Sunday at those implying that the Confederate flag continuing to fly on the state house lawn makes South Carolina more racist than other states.

“Here’s what I think the question underlying all of this is: We’re asking, ‘Is South Carolina a racist state because of the flag that flies on their capitol grounds?’” Mr. Huckabee said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“Here’s what I can tell you as a frequent visitor to South Carolina: This is a state [in which] largely white people elected a female governor of Indian descent and the first-ever African-American United States senator from the South,” he said. “They have more diversity in the people that they have elected to statewide office than New York, Connecticut or Massachusetts.”

The governors of those three states are white Democrats, and all six senators are white Democrats. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is of Indian descent, while Sen. Tim Scott is black; both are Republicans.

Critics have blasted South Carolina’s continued flying of the Confederate flag in the aftermath of Wednesday’s horrific mass shooting, calling the flag a symbol of racism. In 2000, amid a similar furor on the flag flying over the state’s Capitol building, South Carolina lawmakers struck a compromise in which they agreed to fly a smaller Confederate flag and move it to a less prominent position in the front of the statehouse, not above it.

Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, pointed out that Dylann Roof, 21, accused of killing nine black parishioners at the Emanuel AME Church, posed in photos with a Confederate flag and had one painted on his car roof.

“The NAACP has led a boycott of the state of South Carolina for years on end because we are endeavoring to bring that flag down,” Mr. Brooks said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “The fact of the matter is, that flag represents exclusion, it represents bigotry, it represents bias.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said that his views on the flag are irrelevant because “I think the federal government really has no role in this.”

“I’m not a South Carolinian,” said Mr. Santorum, a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, on ABC’s “This Week.” “I don’t think the federal government and federal candidates should be making decisions on everything and opining on everything. This is a decision that needs to be made here in South Carolina.”

“My opinion is that we should let the people of South Carolina move through the process of making this decision,” he added.

The only GOP presidential hopeful from South Carolina, Sen. Lindsey Graham, warned against using the flag as an excuse instead of placing the blame for the murders squarely on the perpetrator.

“We’re not going to give this a guy an excuse about a book he might have read or a movie he watched or a song he listened to or a symbol out anywhere. It’s him … not the flag,” the Republican senator said Saturday on CNN’s “New Day.”

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Saturday on Twitter that the flag should be removed “now to honor #Charleston victims,” while ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said that his state — which also joined the Confederacy during the Civil War — moved the flag from the state grounds to a museum during his tenure.

Even so, Mr. Bush said the decision should be left to South Carolina lawmakers and voters.

“Following a period of mourning, there will rightly be a discussion among leaders in the state about how South Carolina should move forward and I’m confident they will do the right thing,” Mr. Bush said in a Saturday statement.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, told reporters Saturday in Miami that “ultimately the people of South Carolina will make the right decision for South Carolina.”

“The next president of the United States will not make that decision. That’s up for the people of South Carolina to make, and I think they’ll make the right one like they’ve made them in the past,” Mr. Rubio said.

Mr. Huckabee added that Mr. Roof, accused of shooting nine black parishioners Wednesday at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, doesn’t represent South Carolinians.

“There’s 4.8 million people in South Carolina. I don’t think you can say the presence of one lunatic racist who everybody in this country feels contempt for and that no one is defending is somehow evidence of the people of South Carolina,” Mr. Huckabee said.

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