In two Florida counties, the Confederate flag continues to fly proudly. That would no longer be allowed under proposed legislation introduced last week by Orlando Democratic state Sen. Geraldine Thompson. Her bill would ban the display of Confederate flags on state and local government property in Florida.
“Public buildings are supported by taxpayers, and taxpayers come from all walks of life,” Thompson said. They “have different beliefs, different experiences, and when you display something on a public building that is offensive to a significant portion of the population, that becomes problematic.”
Thompson’s proposal comes two months after a racial terrorist attack in South Carolina reignited debate about the merits of publicly displaying the flag publicly. Dylann Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the slayings that took the lives of nine church members. He was commonly photographed with the Confederate flag and police say he intended to incite a race war.
Three weeks after the incident, the South Carolina Legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from its state grounds.
In July the Hillsborough County Commission in Florida followed suit, voting unanimously to remove the Confederate flag that had hung in the county government center for the past two decades.
However, a version of the controversial symbol hangs from the courthouse in Walton County, and at a government complex in Marion County.
Thompson said that while the flag represents heritage to many Southerners, to many other people it’s a symbol of hatred.
“I think the state of Florida needs to move into this century and put that flag into a museum, where it belongs,” she said. “And not have it on properties that are publicly supported by taxpayers who all don’t have the same kind of attachment with regard to that history.”
In February 2001, then-Gov. Jeb Bush ordered that the Confederate battle flag, which since 1978 had flown at the state Capitol in Tallahassee, be taken down.
In Walton County, the county commission voted in June to remove the rebel battle flag that had flown near a monument on the courthouse lawn in DeFuniak Springs. They voted to replace the battle flag with another banner of the Confederate States of America, with a circle of stars on a blue field at the left and three horizontal bars of red and white on the right two-thirds of the flag. The change has not satisfied critics.
In Marion County, commissioners voted unanimously last month to continue to fly the Confederate flag at the county’s government complex in Ocala. That vote came two weeks after the interim county administrator had the flag removed after the South Carolina tragedy. An estimated crowd of 5,000 people participated in a rally celebrating the choice to maintain the flag’s presence in July, the largest such rally for the flag this summer, according to The Washington Post. The Post reports that there have been 173 pro-Confederate flag rallies held across the country since Charleston.
Though Thompson introduced the legislation just a few days ago, the possibility of the bill’s passage in the 2016 Session is already in peril. That’s because Ocala-based GOP-lawmaker Dennis Baxley has expressed unease with Thompson’s bill. And his opinion counts, because he chairs the Local and Federal Affairs Committee in the state House, where the bill would likely be introduced.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten tied up in this discussion of cultural cleansing,” Baxley told The News Service of Florida last week. “The problem is once you start moving on this, then it goes to monuments, then it goes to roads, then it goes to disturbing graves.”
Thompson, though, said her legislation has nothing to do with monuments.
“Monuments are historical recognitions of people and usually a monument is of something like the veterans or an individual and that is very different because it is historically relevant,” she said. “This is a symbol that was resurrected during the Civil Rights movement. It had not displayed, and it was resurrected as a symbol of continuing oppression, segregation and it is inappropriate on public property.”
And the Orlando Democrat, who is expected to announce her candidacy any day now for the 10th Congressional District seat, says she hopes that Baxley will see “the wisdom” of joining other states and municipalities that have taken removed the flag from public property over the years.
“I think it’s worth discussion, and if he’s already decided that he’s not even going to have the discussion, that just misses the sentiment: A lot of people who want this flag taken down,” she said.
Baxley did not respond to requests for comment.