Many political observers believe that in the wake of his surprise win over Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue is backing off his pledge to support a voter referendum on whether to return to the 1956 banner dominated by the red and blue Confederate battle cross, or to stick with the new flag that sharply diminishes the battle cross.
In an effort to put the governor-elect's position in proper perspective, Perdue spokesman Dan McLagan says his boss never called for a referendum on the old flag vs. the new - only that voters should have a say in the matter. And under the Georgia Constitution, it's the legislature through which they have their say.
If lawmakers, in their wisdom, decide a non-binding statewide vote would help them make the right flag decision, Perdue would likely support it, just as he promised. But he would not himself recommend such a referendum.
The new governor, says McLagan, will be open to consultations on the flag issue, but he's going to let the legislature take the lead role in shaping it.
Perdue does not want to make Barnes' mistake by pushing for or designing a new flag. It will be a legislative matter which voters can influence by lobbying their representatives or staging rallies and demonstrations, as the Sons of Confederate Veterans plan to do after Perdue's inauguration.
Whether Perdue is backing off his campaign promise on the flag or not, we are pleased that he wants to manage it in a way that will bring Georgians together, not drive them apart. Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, who's in line to be the Senate's new majority leader, is even more explicit.
"We're about pulling the state together," says Johnson. "The immediate past flag would be divisive. It's my expectation that we won't be going back to the old flag, but the new flag will be changed."
The new flag should be changed - not because it's divisive, but because it's ugly. And Johnson's right. It would be wrong to return to the 1956 flag, because it is too divisive. Black and white Georgians could never come together under the battle cross. It would also be bad for economic development. Companies won't locate where there's much racial strife.
This newspaper supported the 1956 flag for many years until it became clear the state was paying too high a price - economically and racially - to persist. The old flag belongs to the past, and it should stay there. The new flag should point to the future.
The challenge to the new governor and the legislature will be to encourage Georgians of all colors to agree on a flag that will unite us, not divide us. It's called progress.
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