COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) â€” As South Carolina marked its first Confederate Memorial Day holiday today, lawmakers returning to argue over a spot to fly the Confederate flag found a spray-painted reminder of the debate's sensitivity.
Legislators arriving at the capitol this morning passed graffiti reading ``take it down, don't put it here'' on a memorial to Confederate war dead, the spot where the Democrat-controlled Senate had voted to move the flag.
The House resumed debate today on the Senate's measure to remove the flag from the Statehouse dome on July 1 and raise a similar flag at the memorial. Most other state employees were off for the holiday.
No clear consensus emerged Tuesday on the first day of debate. The House agreed to minor amendments, changing the bill to increase the flag pole's height to 30 feet and add lighting.
Despite their opposition to the Confederate flag, some blacks oppose the current bill.
Black Democrats and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is urging tourists to boycott South Carolina, say moving the flag to the memorial would leave it flying too prominently at one of Columbia's busiest intersections.
``We're nearing the parameters of what can pass,'' said Republican House Speaker David Wilkins of Greenville. ``We're on track. We're at the monument. We're staying at the monument.''
The Confederate flag has flown over the Statehouse since 1962 and only the Legislature can remove it. Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges has warned lawmakers that the issue must get resolved before they adjourn June 1.
It is unclear if any of the factions have enough votes to approve a bill. Flag supporters who want to keep the banner flying atop the Statehouse also don't have the numbers.
``Right now, I still think there are not enough votes to pass any single idea,'' said Rep. Bob Sheheen, a Camden Democrat and former House speaker.
Rep. Jake Knotts, a West Columbia Republican and flag supporter, predicted the defacing of the monument this morning would not affect the tenor of the House debate.
But noting Thursday's planned ground breaking for a $1 million monument to honor black South Carolinians, Knotts said, ``I hope it doesn't have a domino effect'' and lead to other vandalism. Whoever spray-painted the monument ``was foolish in doing it,'' he said.
Part of the Senate bill would protect monuments, street names and similar ties to the Confederacy.
The Confederate day holiday today for state employees came as part of a bill signed last week that also created a permanent holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
A flag opponent planned to protest by burning a Confederate banner outside the Statehouse. On Thursday, state officials plan to break ground on a $1 million monument to honor black South Carolinians.
On the Net:
Flag opponents: http://www.getinstep.com
South Carolina Heritage Coalition: http://www.kudzumedia.com/schc.htm
Sons of Confederate Veterans: http://wwww.scv.org