COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley apparently broke the law when she flew a university flag over the Capitol to celebrate a baseball national championship last week.
The governor likely violated the state's Heritage Act, which requires a two-thirds vote by lawmakers in order to change or remove historical items — including the flags that fly over the Capitol Dome.
"If she can do this without any repercussions, I want to put up my plaques," said Greenwood Mayor Welborn Adams, who is among the critics who say the law is overreaching. The law has blocked Adams from replacing existing plaques on a city World War I monument that list soldiers as "colored" or "white" with new plaques that don't segregate them.
James Bessenger of The South Carolina Secessionist Party first brought up the issue. He said his organization is talking to an attorney and considering whether to file a formal complaint with law enforcement over Haley's decision to fly the Coastal Carolina flag for a day.
State law is clear about the flags. After specifying only the U.S. flag and the state flag can be flown, the law says "no other flag shall be displayed in these locations or atop the dome or roof." A later chapter of the same section of law calls for up to 30 days in jail or a $100 fine for using "the State House or grounds for any purpose not authorized by law."
This isn't the first time a governor has raised a championship winning school's flag this century. Gov. Mark Sanford in 2010 and Haley in 2011 raised a University of South Carolina flag after that school won national titles in baseball. But that was before Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds after the killing of nine black people in a Charleston church by a gunman police said was motivated by racial hatred.
Adhering to the law, Haley pushed lawmakers to get the required two-thirds vote to remove the Confederate flag entirely from the Capitol last July.
"All the sudden she now has the authority to override a two-thirds vote?" Bessenger said.
After the 2015 vote to take down the flag, House Speaker Jay Lucas said representatives would not take up any other issues related to the Heritage Act. He kept that vow all through the 2016 session, even as Haley herself asked that The Citadel be allowed to remove a Confederate flag from a chapel — a move also backed by the school's board.
Lucas' spokeswoman said he likely wouldn't comment on the issue. Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams answered questions about the flag with a statement pointing out the governor was just continuing a tradition started when Clemson University's football team won the national championship in 1981.
A group in Greenwood is currently suing the Legislature over the Heritage Act, saying it unlawfully takes away control from local governments. The mayor said the threat of criminal charges is what kept him from changing the bronze war memorial plaques after he collected private donations and having the new ones cast.
"I didn't feel like pushing it that hard," Adams said.
The governor's seemed to have good intentions with the flag-raising. She sent pictures of her watching the game Thursday on Twitter , then photos of her and her husband as the Coastal Carolina flag was raised. A video on the front page of her state website Tuesday afternoon shows the event with upbeat band music being played in the background.
"These were the underdogs," Haley said in an interview outside the Statehouse about an hour after the team won the title. "They fought hard. They won. They made South Carolina proud."