In a few months, Georgia voters who go to the polls for the presidential primaries can also vote for one of two state flags.
Turnout is generally an indication of not just interest in an election, but a reflection of how much leverage voters believe they have in determining the outcome. The latter reason partly explains low turnout in primaries: voters know there will be another election after the first contenders are winnowed out, so why get involved now?
Having a flag referendum as part of next years presidential primary changes that turnout dynamic, but how it does so is anyones guess.
So heres mine.
Turnout will be huge, driven by those who want to reward Gov. Sonny Perdue for signing a bill that doesnt include the banner generally called the 56 flag; and by those who want to punish Perdue for the same reason.
Strangely, we may see those who generally have little sympathy for Southern heritage voting in favor of a flag dominated by the First National Flag of the Confederacy; and Southern fans, having transferred their blind rage from Barnes to Perdue, favoring out of pure spite the flag most of them despise as Roys Rag.
In the middle will be the vast majority of folks who dont really care. Few of them will vote anyway, but those who do will likely agree with the international panel of experts who consider Barnes flag one of the ugliest in existence. Theyll check the box for the Perdue flag, and it will win easily.
The other scenario is that turnout will be no larger than a normal presidential primary. With President Bush unopposed, Republicans have little reason to vote. And Democrats may lack motivation to choose among the plethora of pathetically shrill sad sacks masquerading as candidates.
Meanwhile, some neo-Confederates will skip the polls as a way of saying none of the above to the two flags on the ballot. And few others will flock to the polls to say yea or nay.
Under this scenario, the Perdue flag wins simply because its the more attractive of the two, and because some neo-Confederates actually like the flags pedigree. The basic design of the Perdue flag is similar to the flag Georgia flew before the battle emblem was added in 1956, and recently Georgia archivists discovered turn-of-the-20th-century documents proving the original design was approved by Confederate veterans.
Most Georgians, most Columbia Countians, probably dont care much at all about the whole flag debate - and would be amazed to know how much time and energy neo-Confederates are spending in an effort to villify Perdue as a liar because of the flag vote.
Given a choice between the 56 flag, the Perdue flag or the Barnes flag, I prefer the Perdue flag. It is more attractive, more accurately reflects Georgia history, and doesnt carry the unfortunate (and unfair) baggage of the battle flag.
But we dont have a choice between those three flags; the 56 flag was left on the sidelines of modern history by Georgia lawmakers. So angry neo-Confederates are threatening to show up at next Novembers elections to punish any politician who didnt put the 56 flag on the March referendum. And they say theyll nurse their anger all the way to November 2006 to punish Perdue.
Can they really stay angry that long over something of such insignificance to the future of our state?
Of course they can. Theyre still carrying a grudge over the aftermath of a war that consumed just four years of Georgia history and ended nearly 150 years ago. And theyre convinced they have leverage in a political fight that, like the War Between the States, seems like it will never end.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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