AIKEN -- Republicans running for their party's nomination for the late Rudy Mason's seat say they don't think a boycott will furl the Confederate battle flag, but they say it will hurt the very ones it seeks to vindicate.
The three -- Kathryn Kling, Robert S. "Skipper" Perry and Rebekah E. Sutherland -- say the NAACP should never have called for a boycott against the state of South Carolina. Independent candidate Scott Singer says he understands the symbolic reasons for calling the boycott but wishes another way could be found to arrive at a solution.
Mr. Perry, Ms. Kling and Mrs. Sutherland face the voters in the Republican primary Aug. 17, and the winner may have to go up against Mr. Singer in the special Oct. 5 election. Mr. Singer is already out trying to gather just over 1,000 signatures needed to put him on the ballot.
"The process of gathering signatures is my primary," he said. If he's successful, he'll be on the ballot.
Whoever wins the House 81 seat made vacant by the death of Mr. Mason in June will have to face this divisive issue currently dominating the headlines in newspapers across the state.
The NAACP has thrown a big one on the desks of legislators when they return to the state house in January. The civil rights organization has called for a boycott of South Carolina and urges all organizations and especially black tourists and other travelers to put aside plans for visiting the Palmetto State.
So far the Southern Leadership Conference and the Urban League have canceled plans for conventions in Charleston and more cancellations are expected to come.
"Reasonable people can work out a solution to the problem but a boycott will hurt the very people that are supposedly most offended by the flag," Mr. Perry said. He favors a solution to the problem similar to the compromise worked out in 1994 but rejected by hard-liners in both parties.
That compromise would have taken the Confederate naval jack down from the dome of the Capitol and placed the Confederate flag in a "place of honor" on the Capitol grounds.
It is a solution favored by Mr. Singer, who also notes that at the moment there is no political will in Columbia to bring down the flag.
"The flag issue has become a very divisive issue but other issues are truly more important. Although I favor the sentiment of the NAACP, drawing a line in the sand is not the way to do it," Mr. Singer said.
Ms. Kling suggests that the flag issue is being manipulated by the NAACP.
"It's obviously a power play I wish we didn't have to cope with," she said.
"It will hurt tourism. It will hurt restaurants and motels and cost many African-American jobs. The NAACP machine needs to be more sensitive to the true needs of the African-American community," Ms. Kling said.
Mrs. Sutherland goes even further in her condemnation of the NAACP.
"It appears that the organization needs more money; therefore it has selected a couple of emotional issues, which cause its members to send money to its coffers. The
NAACP's behavior is proof that it does not care about multiculturalism and diversity. Instead, it only cares about the almighty dollar," she said.
She said that the organization's call for a boycott may in fact be a misdemeanor under a South Carolina law, which protects the U.S., state and Confederate flags from anyone who defaces, defiles or casts contempt upon them.
Mr. Perry has issued a challenge to his fellow Republicans on another hot-button issue in the news.
He asked each of the other two GOP candidates to sign a letter to South Carolina House Speaker David Wilkins promising to carry on a campaign against video poker.
The issue will be brought before the electorate in a referendum Nov. 2 but he wants the fight to continue with whoever wins the election.
"Even though the issue will be taken up by the voters of South Carolina in a November ballot initiative, we believe the newly elected representative from House Seat 81 should use their position as a bully pulpit in the fight against video poker," he said.
He contended that if the vote is to continue to allow video poker in the state, "I'm sure they'll be searching for sympathetic members in the Statehouse to carry water for the industry."
Calling video poker "a blight on the landscape," Ms. Kling said that "win, lose or draw in this election, I will be working against video poker, and I will vote against it in November. It is not just a game of chance, it's an addictive, seductive activity that is stealing money from homes and taking food out of kids' mouths," she said.
Mrs. Sutherland said that when she signed on to run as a Republican, she automatically went on record as opposing legalized gambling in any form. But she is skeptical about the importance of the video poker issue. Because of voting apathy, both the Democratic and Republican parties needed an issue to excite the voters, and both parties discovered that video poker could create political activism.
"Therefore, the parties struck upon the idea that the Democrats would be for video poker and the Republicans would be against video poker," she charges. "This plan would bring money from the gambling businesses into the Democratic coffers while the Christian ministers would use their pulpits to encourage folks to donate money to the Republican coffers."
She also contends that there is no biblical basis for opposition to gambling as compared to adultery, fornication and abortion.
Mr. Singer says he is personally against video poker because he feels the social costs far exceeds the benefits. But he contends that an individual has a right to decide what he wants to do with his money and individual communities should be able to decide.
Pat Willis is a reporter for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augusta
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