Vote on state flag coming up

By Billy Corriher

After years of debate and two transformations in the last three years, Georgia's state flag is up for grabs again on March 2, when voters will choose between two versions of the flag.

Georgians will be asked to pick either former Gov. Roy Barnes' blue flag with a banner of small historical flags at the bottom or the state's current flag, which resembles the flag in place before 1956, when the flag that featured the controversial Confederate battle emblem was approved.

Despite all the controversy leading up to the vote, Ed Jackson, a professor at the University of Georgia who helped design the current banner, said he doesn't think Georgians will show up in large numbers for the referendum.

"My guess is it's not going to be a big turnout," he said.

Jackson said citizens are not going to be as interested because the controversial 1956 flag is not on the ballot, and he said that, even though the referendum coincides with Georgia's presidential primary, the Democratic nominee could be decided before the March 2 vote.

Jackson said polls suggest that many citizens prefer the current flag, but even if Barnes' flag was chosen in the non-binding referendum, the state legislature might be reluctant to take up the flag issue before elections in November.

"It's so divisive, I can't imagine anyone wanting to bring the flag up again," he said.

Even if legislators try to dodge the issue, Jackson said the attacks on certain legislators by supporters of the 1956 flag could affect this year's election.

"There were a couple of legislators who lost in the last election because of the flag issue," he said.

Riverdale resident Sholanda Mauney said she would not support any candidate who supported the 1956 flag.

"I don't think that flag should ever be allowed," she said. "It's very offensive to me as an African American."

Mauney said she would probably vote in the March 2 referendum, but she wasn't sure which flag she would choose.

"I would be happy with either flag, as long as its not the Confederate flag," she said.

But Jonesboro resident Michael Reed said having the 1956 flag as a choice was not a bad idea.

"I don't think the people of Georgia would vote for the Confederate flag," he said. "The issue would finally be over. I think we're ready to move beyond it."

William Lathem, spokesman for the Southern Heritage Political Action Committee, said his group will not stop pushing for a referendum with the 1956 flag.

"Censorship is always an issue," he said, "and that's what happened, the 1956 flag was censored when it was kept off the ballot."

Lathem said he thinks the issue will still be on voters' minds this November. Lathem's group recently issued a deck of playing cards featuring state legislators that the group sees as "traitors" for either supporting the replacement of the 1956 flag or the initiative to keep it off the ballot.

But Jackson, an expert on the state flag, said if the current flag wins, it will remain in place for a long time.

"I can't imagine these discussions continuing after the next election," he said.

Jackson noted that the current flag is based on a former Confederate flag, so he thinks many Southern heritage groups will eventually embrace the new flag.

"But even if the new flag wins, we'll still see the '56 flag on flagpoles, particularly in rural areas," he said.