Serious Challenges Demand Serious Leaders

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There was, and is, continued heartbreak and sadness related to the tragic deaths of nine innocent people at Emanuel AME Church on June 17. The heinous crime perpetrated by a hate-filled individual shocked many into discussion and introspection on issues that aren’t really considered “polite dinner conversation”: the flying of the Confederate Battle Flag and race relations in South Carolina. I believe that the location of the murders (in a church), and the incredible grace and forgiveness shown by the victim’s families actually make these conversations slightly less difficult, but no less important. Flag or no flag, these are needed conversations. I just happen to think they would be more productive if the issue of the flag were taken off the table. In other words, it’s a necessary start.

Like it or not, we have to accept that certain symbols, historic or cherished, can and do mean very different things to different people. The Confederate Battle Flag falls into this category. To suggest the flag on the grounds of the Statehouse is only about heritage is to ignore the misuse and misappropriation of that symbol by those who do and have done so in hate. It was placed on the dome in direct defiance to the Civil Rights movement, not as a memorial to the dead. Its symbolic meaning was simply not well protected by those who hold it dear and has now been hijacked. It’s been misused by groups who are now linked inextricably and while the removal is not the solution, it is a step. (And no, we don’t need to start changing the names of buildings, bridges, military bases or roads.) To suggest the flag’s presence should just be accepted by those it offends is at a very minimum naïve, or worse. It’s time to turn the page.

Many people in our state—both in business and in government—have shown tremendous leadership through these recent events. Governor Haley, whose tone and strategies I have questioned from time to time, has led with strength, sincerity and resolve. Many in the General Assembly have taken a position at odds with some of their constituents but do so for the greater good of the State. And yet—at this writing—at least 40 percent of Greenville Delegation and others from the Upstate are expected to vote “no” on moving the flag. Hopefully, by the time you read this, that final vote will have occurred and that number will have decreased. But it does raise questions, important questions about representation, leadership and effectiveness.

Those like Senator Lee Bright of Spartanburg who propose passing the buck on the Confederate flag issue to the people of South Carolina via public referendum, is a perfect example of the ineptitude of our government at times. If our legislature can’t quickly come together and lead on an issue like this, is it any wonder they can’t address our roads and infrastructure, ethics reform or education?

The South Carolina House of Representatives was relatively productive this Session. They did pass bills to support some road improvements (though not nearly enough), took a solid swing at ethics reform, and did a good job on several other issues. But a bill has to pass both the House and the Senate to become law with a gubernatorial signature and the Senate rules allow a single member to obstruct a bill indefinitely. Which means we have to look more closely at exactly who we are electing to serve in that body.

Yes, there are some very dedicated individuals in the South Carolina House and Senate from the Upstate who are focused on good government. Unfortunately, there are others who seem to prefer “no government” and revel in constant obstructionism. That’s not leadership. It’s demagoguery. Serious deliberation is needed on important matters that affect the citizens of the Palmetto State. Obstruction for the sake of obstruction, is self-promotion, no matter how you choose to spin it.

I am and always will be a proud South Carolinian. We have big problems and big issues that we need to get fixed. We need to elect people who will actually make tough policy choices on a wide range of issues. While we continue to heal, let’s salute those serious enough to tackle the big issues head on and take note of those who refuse to do so. Let’s demand solutions. Let’s demand action. And if not, remember that filing date to run for office opens in March.

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Chip Felkel
Hollis (Chip Felkel) is a veteran public affairs strategist and political advisor who has worked in the state and national arenas for almost 30 years. He is the CEO of Felkel Group and of RAP Index, a web based advocacy service. Follow him on Twitter: @ChipFelkel

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