(Editor's note: Missouri officials removed Confederate flags at two historic sites on Tuesday, prompted by Rep. Dick Gephardt's comments that such flags should not be flown anywhere. Press reports said Confederate battle flags no longer fly at the Confederate Memorial Historic Site and the Fort Davidson Historic Site; those flags have been moved inside the visitors' centers. The Washington Post reported that Mary Still, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, called the state's Natural Resources Director after reading a news report about Gephardt's statement. "I told Steve it seemed to me it wouldn't be appropriate to have it flying on a flagpole, but that I didn't know all of their considerations, and I left it in his lap," Still was quoted as saying.)
(CNSNews.com) - The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a Civil War heritage group, Tuesday accused Missouri Democratic congressman and presidential candidate Dick Gephardt of "flag bashing" after he said the Confederate flag should not be flying anywhere in the United States.
Last weekend, Gephardt, campaigning in South Carolina, said the Confederate flag "no longer has a place flying anywhere, anytime in our great nation."
He also said the flag "is a hurtful, divisive symbol, and in my view has no place flying anywhere, in any state in this country."
On Tuesday, several Missouri officials told wire services and several state newspapers that Gephardt apparently forgot about a Confederate flag that flies year-round at the Confederate Memorial State Historic Site near Higginsville, about 40 miles east of Kansas City.
Erik Smith, a spokesman for Gephardt's congressional office, told reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday, "He did not know this existed, and he believes that flag should come down also."
Smith added that Gephardt's South Carolina statement stands.
But Sue Holst, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which administers the Higginsville site, told CNSNews.com, "We see the use of the flag as part of our interpretation of the history (of the Civil War), and that's what that site is about.
"We don't see it as an official position (on the Confederate flag), we see it in context of interpretation of that part of history, and that's why we still do have it there," she said.
"Going back at least 20 years, we are not aware of any kind of official protest or request to remove it from any official at any level, from Missouri or elsewhere," Holst concluded.
The Confederate flag has flown for several decades at the 192-acre Higginsville, Mo., site, a former location of a Confederate veterans' home and cemetery where the remains of almost 700 Confederate veterans and their wives are buried.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans, a Tennessee-based Civil War heritage group, thinks Gephardt is "flag bashing" and "pandering for votes from the left" in hopes of solidifying his Democratic Party base, according to spokesman Ron Casteel.
"This is typical left-wing flag bashing that goes on, and politicians always manage to do it," Casteel told CNSNews.com . "I would put Gephardt in that classification."
"Poll after poll after poll has shown public support for the Confederate flag. I know there is some division as to whether it should fly over a state capitol or not, but there is a vast difference between that and flying it at a public place," Casteel said.
"Thank God, to this point, we live in a free country. Politicians all say it's divisive, but yet the polls unanimously show that people don't agree with that far left position," he concluded.
A spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party believes Gephardt's comments about the Confederate flag will hurt him in next year's Missouri Democratic presidential primary.
"Gephardt is wildly unpopular outside of his (St. Louis) district," Casteel said. "It seems he is trying to score some political points, but it seems he should have done his homework a little bit better," Missouri GOP spokesman Scott Blair said.
"He should have done his homework a little bit more before he stuck his foot in his mouth. He should have known what was going on in his own backyard," Blair concluded.
Missouri and South Carolina are both scheduled to hold their presidential primaries on Feb. 3, 2004.
In defending Gephardt, Missouri Democratic Party spokesman Mike Kelley told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Missouri Republicans "have underestimated Dick Gephardt for 26 years, which is why they repeatedly have failed to defeat him."
Gephardt's political operation is unmatched in the state, Kelley said. He added that Missouri's labor unions also would campaign hard to ensure that Gephardt won the state's presidential primary.
"Missouri is the start of Dick Gephardt's march to the White House," Kelley said.
However, South Carolina is considered to be more important because it is the first Southern state to hold a presidential primary. It has also been the site of constant bickering over the flying of the Confederate flag.
In a compromise reached in July 2000, a bipartisan majority of South Carolina lawmakers agreed to remove the flag from inside the state capitol's chambers and from atop the dome and hoist it in front of the Confederate Memorial on the grounds of the statehouse.
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