Originally created 02/23/03

State flag issue is still up in air



ATLANTA - Gov. Sonny Perdue's plan for a vote on the state flag didn't officially go anywhere in the General Assembly last week.

But there was plenty of flag-related activity outside the Gold Dome, as lawmakers prepared to consider a nonbinding referendum that would give voters three choices.

They could opt for the current flag pushed by then-Gov. Roy Barnes in 2001, the controversial Confederate battle flag version adopted in 1956 or the banner that flew over the state before '56.

Civil rights groups gathered last week in Atlanta to call even the idea of a vote a travesty, saying they would boycott the referendum if it's approved by the Legislature.

And business leaders, most notably Atlanta Falcons owner and Chamber of Commerce bigwig Arthur Blank, ended days of fence-sitting to say that they, too, are against a flag change.

Southern heritage groups and Mr. Perdue's Republican supporters in the Legislature keep saying that a vote is the only way to put the emotional issue in the past once and for all.

Like most political issues, there's plenty of rhetoric to go around. Nobody knows how the issue will pan out. Here's a quick look at possible scenarios for Mr. Perdue - the best case, the worst case and the one he could at least live with:

BEST CASE: The General Assembly approves Mr. Perdue's call for a vote on the flag. After a well-attended series of forums on race relations, which he's suggested, Georgians go to the polls and pick the pre-1956 flag. Lawmakers hear the voice of the people and officially adopt the old banner. Mr. Perdue satisfies his campaign pledge.

Southern heritage groups get a flag steeped in Confederate history and black groups get one that doesn't include the battle emblem they despise.

WORST CASE: Ironically, the worst political outcome for Mr. Perdue might be to get what many of the folks who voted for him want. If the Legislature ultimately returns to the 1956 flag, Georgia gets a black eye in the national media.

Mr. Perdue becomes the governor who, in 2003, put a Confederate flag back over Georgia, and a huge turnout of Democrat-friendly black voters spells trouble for his 2006 re-election effort.

COULD LIVE WITH: Politically, Mr. Perdue comes out all right if the Legislature sits on his bill. He could blame Democrats for blocking the flag vote and appeal to voters to elect more Republicans for another chance at a vote.