COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A Republican running for South Carolina governor says she's "not backtracking" in her support for lawmakers' efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds but said she is proud of the Confederacy.
Hours after speaking to a grassroots GOP gathering in the conservative Upstate, Catherine Templeton told The Associated Press on Tuesday night that she's "proud of the Confederacy."
But Templeton said she still stands by a 2015 document expressing support for a decision by then-Gov. Nikki Haley and state lawmakers to remove the flag after the massacre of nine black worshippers at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church.
"I supported Gov. Haley and our Legislature because a bad man took our symbol and turned it into hate," Templeton said, referring to convicted church shooter Dylann Roof, who embraced the flag and is a self-avowed white supremacist. "But I am South Carolina born and raised, and I am proud of our history. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, and I don't apologize for that."
At a town hall meeting, sponsored by the Pickens County Republican Party, Templeton fielded several questions from the audience about the flag removal and the ongoing debate surrounding Confederate monuments. In the weeks that followed the church shootings, Haley called for the flag's removal from a prominent position on the Statehouse grounds, and lawmakers voted to do so after heated debate.
"I think what we did was we reacted, and I think that's what happens in government a lot," Templeton told the audience. "I am proud to be from South Carolina. I am proud of the Confederacy. But I'm not going to second-guess what the people in the Statehouse did when I wasn't there."
Templeton, through her consulting firm, signed on along with dozens of business leaders to a document applauding Haley and state lawmakers for taking action. After the town hall, she told AP she stood behind that support, but wouldn't support the removal of Confederate monuments, including one honoring Confederate soldiers that stands near where the battle flag formerly flew.
"It was a reaction. I think that our governor managed a tragedy in the best way any of us knew how, and she needed support on the day the flag came down," she said.
Templeton, a former director of the state's labor and public health departments, entered the governor's race earlier this year as a primary challenger to Gov. Henry McMaster and has raised a lot of money.
McMaster was elevated to the state's top slot earlier this year upon Haley's confirmation as U.N. ambassador. He is seeking a full term in 2018.
When asked by a reporter from The Post and Courier of Charleston about Templeton's remarks, he said: "I am very happy to be a South Carolinian, and I think that particular issue has been discussed and resolved, and I think everybody I know who lives in South Carolina is very happy to be a South Carolinian."