Jeb Bush Ordered The Confederate Flag Removed From Florida Capitol 14 Years Ago

06/19/2015 12:33 pm ET | Updated Jun 19, 2015

As the nation continues to grapple with the aftermath of a shooting in which a 21-year-old white man has been charged with murdering nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, an emotional debate surrounding the Confederate flag has once again resurfaced.

At the South Carolina state capitol in Columbia, flags were lowered to half-staff in the aftermath of the slaughter, with one notable exception: The stars-and-bars Civil War-era banner that has flown on the statehouse grounds since it was moved there from the capitol dome in 2000 has remained at full-staff.

In light of the racially motivated shootings, outraged observers have taken to social media to urge Gov. Nikki Haley (R) to remove the flag that commemorates the slave-owning South. But Haley is hamstrung by a state law that prevents the Confederate flag from being removed without a two-thirds majority vote from the state General Assembly.

Even if she had the ability to act, the political ramifications of meddling with the Confederate flag in South Carolina could be significant. In 1998, Republican Gov. David Beasley lost his re-election bid after calling for the removal of the flag from the South Carolina capitol.

“I’m the last living casualty of the Civil War,” Beasley joked to RealClearPolitics in 2012.

While all of the major presidential candidates have weighed in on the Charleston shooting, one dealt directly with a similar issue involving the controversial flag when he was governor.

In February of 2001, Jeb Bush, then governor of Florida, ordered that the Confederate battle flag, which since 1978 had flown at the state capitol in Tallahassee, be taken down.

"Regardless of our views about the symbolism of the ... flags -- and people of goodwill can disagree on the subject -- the governor believes that most Floridians would agree that the symbols of Florida's past should not be displayed in a manner that may divide Floridians today," Bush spokeswoman Katie Baur said in a statement at the time, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Bush’s action came at a time when wounds were still fresh from the contentious 2000 recount in Florida, which ended in his brother, George W. Bush, officially winning the state’s 25 electoral votes -- and thereby the presidency -- by just 537 votes out of almost 6 million cast.

Reports of voting irregularities across the state were especially pervasive in minority communities, and investigations into how the election was conducted in Florida were ongoing at the time.

But Bush’s office denied that the move to bring down the Confederate flag was motivated by a desire to placate African-Americans in the state, 93 percent of whom had cast their ballots for George W. Bush's Democratic opponent, Al Gore.

The decision made 14 years ago by the 2016 Republican presidential candidate to remove the flag was approved by then Secretary of State Katherine Harris -- a central figure in the recount saga.

The discreet action did not go over well with the Confederate flag’s supporters in Florida, according to the Times.

"If (Bush) had 3,000 protesters in front of the place hollering to take the flag down, I would at least understand why. But nobody said anything, at least that we were aware of," said John Adams, who was the Florida division commander for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "I feel betrayed."

At least one other 2016 Republican presidential candidate has weighed in directly on the Confederate flag issue.

As he was going head-to-head against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) before the closely contested 2008 South Carolina presidential primary, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) came down firmly on the side of allowing the flag to be flown at the capitol.

"You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," Huckabee said at a campaign event in Myrtle Beach. "In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell them what to do with the pole, that's what we'd do."

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