As he worked his way through dozens of bill signings last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue put his signature on SB 27, a measure that designates April as Confederate Heritage/History Month and sets the stage for the upcoming observance of the Civil War sesquicentennial.
I wonder if Perdue even paused to ponder the irony of his signing a piece of legislation that compels an official recognition of the Confederate States of America.
Perdue was elected governor in 2002 with the enthusiastic support of Confederate-flag-waving rural voters who were angry with Roy Barnes for changing the state flag. As he nears the end of his administration, Perdue again is bowing to the wishes of Georgians who long for the good old days of “the lost cause.”
Of course, there are decent business reasons for setting up a Confederate history month. The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is expected to draw tourists who want to look at historic battlefield sites. We might as well prepare for this influx of visitors and the money they could spend.
Two years before that date arrives, however, we seem to be caught up in another refighting of the War Between the States.
In recent weeks, political leaders in several southern states have been talking openly about the positive aspects of such concepts as “secession” and “sovereignty” and “states’ rights” and “nullification.”
Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was one of the first to mention secession, which he thought might be a good way for his state to throw off the burdens of an “intrusive” federal government. Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, a Republican candidate for governor in Georgia, has expressed sympathy for the secessionist crowd as well.
The Georgia Senate passed a resolution in the waning days of the legislative session, SR 632, that declares the state can ignore federal laws if the state’s leaders think Congress doesn’t have the authority to enact such measures.
“All acts of Congress which assume to create, define, or punish crimes, other than those so enumerated in the Constitution are altogether void, and of no force; and that the power to create, define, and punish such other crimes is reserved, and, of right, appertains solely and exclusively to the respective States, each within its own territory,” says the quaint language of the resolution, which was copied from a document written by Thomas Jefferson in 1798.
Let’s call this what it is: crazy talk. The question of who prevails in a dispute between the federal government and the states was settled about 150 years ago in that struggle called the Civil War. These arguments about the supposed authority of states to do whatever they want to do — such as ignore Civil Rights laws — are the sort of thing we heard from John Birchers, white supremacists and other extremists in the 1950s and 1960s.
It is a point of view that does have its supporters here. A recent poll of the state’s voters showed that among Republicans, one-third of them favored the idea of Georgia leaving the U.S. The overall support for secession among all poll respondents was 18 percent.
One of the major complaints you hear from critics of the federal government is the enormous amount of money being spent to address the problems caused by the current economic crisis. Sen. Chip Pearson, Sen. Chip Rogers and Rep. Tom Graves are among the most outspoken of Georgia’s lawmakers on this particular topic.
And yet, Pearson, Rogers and Graves voted to approve the supplemental state budget as well as the budget for fiscal year 2010 — and both budgets were only balanced after legislators agreed to accept hundreds of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds.
If federal spending is so bad that we should be thinking about secession, then you need to put your money where your mouth is and send back all the stimulus funds.
But there you have it. The members of the political party whose greatest president fought a bloody war to prevent southern states from seceding are now in the forefront of dissidents who want those same states to secede. As we near the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a large part of our population is ready to fight the war all over again.
If it sounds weird, it’s just Georgia politics in action.
Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report, an Internet news service at www.gareport.com that covers government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org