- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee says he is saluting South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who called Monday to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds.

“I salute Governor Haley and the other people of South Carolina for saying look, if this is a distraction, if this is something that inflames people, it’s not that important to us,” Mr. Huckabee, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, said on Fox News. “What’s more important is a state where we can create the kind of atmosphere that we saw out of the church members of Charleston.”

Ms. Haley and other South Carolina leaders on Monday called for removing the flag from the state Capitol in Columbia, less than a week after a white gunman killed nine black parishioners in a Charleston church. Images have since surfaced online of the suspected gunman, Dylann Roof, 21, holding the Confederate flag and a gun.

“And I keep hearing … people talk about, we need more conversations about race,” Mr. Huckabee said. “Actually, we don’t need more conversations. What we need is conversions. Because the reconciliation that changes people is not a racial reconciliation; it’s a spiritual reconciliation when people are reconciled to God. We saw it in those church members. When I love God and I know that God created other people regardless of their color as much as he made me, I don’t have a problem with racism. It’s solved.”

On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” on NBC, Mr. Huckabee had said the issue over the flag is “not an issue for a person running for president” and that if the state government of South Carolina wanted to address the issue, that’s fine.

“But … if you can point me to an article and section of the Constitution in which a United States president ought to weigh in on what states use as symbols, then please refresh my memory on that,” he said. “But for those of us running for president, everyone’s being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is, it most certainly does not.”

SEE ALSO: Lindsey Graham, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott call for removal of Confederate flag from S.C. capitol

“As president, you’re focused on the economy, keeping America safe,” Mr. Huckabee continued. “Some really big issues for the nation. I don’t think they want us to weigh in on every little issue in all 50 states that might be an important issue to the people of that state but not on the desk of the president.”

Mr. Huckabee said in the Tuesday interview on Fox that he had not been punting on the issue.

“I didn’t punt at all — I just simply said that the president of the United States has nothing to do with what flags go on … Capitol grounds,” he said. “Look, I think that we miss the real point of this, and when I’m asked that question as a presidential candidate, what I’m being baited for is, ‘Is South Carolina a racist state?’

“And so what I said was … as a frequent visitor to South Carolina, I look at this objectively,” Mr. Huckabee continued. “You’ve got a female governor who is of Indian descent, you have the only elected African-American U.S. senator in the south from a state of 4.8 million people elected largely by people who are mostly white. That’s not racism. And so the flag is an important issue for South Carolina, but I don’t think the president of the United States needs to be picking the symbols that fly on state Capitol grounds. It wasn’t a punt, I didn’t squirm, I didn’t vacillate on it.”

He went on to say that the issue shouldn’t be settled “by The New York Times or a bunch of talking heads from a Washington roundtable — it ought to be decided by the people who live in that state.”

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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