Chicago Tribune: Flag issue was Banner Day for GOP in Georgia

November 7, 2002
By Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune
Thursday, November 7, 2002

Atlanta — Two years after Gov. Roy Barnes secretly engineered a plan to downsize the Confederate emblem on the Georgia flag, the state’s rural voters made good on a threat to help kick him out of office.

According to many political observers, the Confederate flag issue–which has polarized much of the South in recent years–may have caused a surprising number of voters to turn out for Barnes’ Republican opponent, Sonny Perdue. On Tuesday, many rural counties that normally go Democratic voted Republican.

Barnes, who like almost everyone in the state was stunned by the upset, acknowledged Wednesday that the flag issue likely contributed to his defeat. The flag became an issue in the campaign, with Perdue promising to reopen the debate by allowing a referendum and Barnes asserting that Georgia cannot turn back the clock.

However, after his victory, Perdue appeared to back away from his promise.

“We’ll deal with that in January when we convene,” he said in a television interview. “I’m a believer in the legislative process, and we’ll see how that works.”

Averting major political squabbles such as those in Mississippi and South Carolina, Barnes orchestrated a behind-the-scenes deal with state legislators to create a new state flag that reduced the Confederate emblem, which had taken up three-quarters of the banner. On the new flag, the emblem is a small icon along with four others, including the U.S. flag, along the bottom of the banner.

“The flag issue was like a torpedo swimming underneath the surface, and it was much more powerful than people realized,” said Mark Rountree, a Republican political consultant in Atlanta. “It was not so much a race-based issue. People felt the change had been forced upon them before they had the chance to even think
about it.”

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