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Flag debate emerges at Capitol

By Michael Davis

The first day of the 2004 General Assembly looked a lot like the last of the 2003 session as the flag debate continued to emerge inside and outside the Capitol.

As lawmakers entered the building, planes towing banners with slogans in support of the 1956 flag and Confederate battle emblem flew overhead and protestors gathered outside.

The Southern Heritage Political Action Committee announced its continued efforts to get the flag bearing the prominent battle emblem on the ballot for the March 2 referendum. They also displayed a deck of playing cards mimicking "Iraq's Most Wanted," cards made up with the likeness of lawmakers "who in the last election said one thing and did another," according to Martin O'Toole, chairman of the committee's board of directors.

William Lathem, spokesman for the group, said its main goal is to add the battle flag to the March referendum.

"No referendum on the Senate floor will be acceptable unless the 1956 flag is a choice," he said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's willingness to give the so-called "flaggers" a choice of state flags played a key role in the ouster of Gov. Roy Barnes but after a referendum was not offered, many wondered whether Perdue would have their support.

Lathem said the committee is meeting with lawmakers who they feel might introduce legislation this term to add the 1956 flag to the referendum.

If the flag is not added, Lathem said the committee would be urging voters to abstain from voting altogether.

"It could easily be put on the July ballot," he said.

Some demonstrators outside the Capitol said that they were not so much in favor of the 1956 flag, but would appreciate having a choice.

Anna Claire, a student from Macon, said that though she would vote for the current flag in the March referendum, "I think (the 1956 flag) should be on the list."