Rick Perry: Confederate Flag "Divides People"

Rick Perry: Confederate Flag "Divides People"
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The Confederate flag, Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said Saturday, “clearly … divides people.”

The former Texas governor was speaking in the context of Wednesday’s racially motivated mass shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C.—a tragedy that has rekindled debate about whether it is appropriate for Southern states to still fly the Confederate emblem.

“I think a governor’s job should be one to bring people together, not to divide them, and I think the Confederate battle flag is clearly one of those that divides people,” Perry said Saturday in an interview with RealClearPolitics.

Amid revelations that Dylann Roof, the admitted shooter who killed 9 people inside Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, had a Confederate flag border around his car license plate and expressed racist motivations for targeting congregants at an African-American church, many Democrats and some Republicans have demanded that a Confederate flag flying in front of the South Carolina statehouse be removed.

Perry, in Washington, D.C., Saturday for the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, stopped short of that stance, saying, “I think it’s up to the people of South Carolina.” But he made a point of adding: “The people of the state of Texas, we dealt with those issues.”

This was a reference to a decision made by the Texas Motor Vehicles Board to reject a proposal by the Sons of Confederate Veterans for specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag. Perry, who was then governor, supported the decision.

“We don’t need to be scraping old wounds,” he said at the time.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans took the fight to the legal system, and the U.S. Supreme Court issued its final ruling this week, deciding by a 5-4 vote that the state could indeed ban the image of a Confederate flag on license plates. Now, South Carolina is grappling with an even more freighted symbolism of the flag. Not only did Roof drive a car with a Confederate flag license plate, but that flag flies on the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, another Republican candidate for president, told CNN on Friday that “it is time for the people of South Carolina to revisit that decision.”

“But this is part of who we are,” Graham added.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, tweeted Saturday: “Take down the Confederate Flag at the SC Capitol. To many, it is a symbol of racial hatred. Remove it now to honor Charleston victims.”

The shooting in Charleston has also reignited an impassioned debate among Democrats and Republicans over the root causes of mass shootings and what the government should do, if anything, to prevent future incidents.

On Friday, Perry stoked controversy when, during an interview, he called the Charleston shooting an “accident,” which seemed to downplay the willful nature of the tragedy. His office later said Perry had meant to say “incident.” “This was clearly a deliberate hate crime,” he clarified Saturday.

Perry added that he thinks there is “certainly a role for government to play” to prevent mass shootings in the future, although he said action should be taken at the state level, not by the federal government.

“I think the states are quite capable of putting into place the protections or the punishments that should be considered,” Perry said.

That puts for former governor in a different position from at least three GOP candidates for president — Rand Paul, Chris Christie and Ben Carson — who said this week that the government cannot do anything to stem such events.

“There's a sickness in our country. There's something terribly wrong,” Paul said Thursday in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. “But it isn't going to be fixed by your government.”

Rebecca Berg is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at rberg@realclearpolitics.com.


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