An Idaho state representative’s Facebook post of herself posing with a Confederate flag has touched a nerve in the state, which still resents being associated with the racism of Richard Butler’s Aryan Nations.
Rep. Heather Scott, a Blanchard Republican, posted the picture on Facebook along with the message: “Protecting and promoting our freedom of speech is an honor.” The photo, which includes her campaign sign, was taken at Priest River’s annual Timber Days celebration on July 25.
In an interview, Scott said she flew the flag, along with three American flags, on her parade “float,” which was an old Army troop truck.
She was joined in the Timber Days parade by fellow freshman Rep. Sage Dixon, a Ponderay Republican.
“We see it as a symbol of free speech,” she said this week.
But Tony Stewart, a founding member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, called the Confederate flag “a symbol of segregation… a symbol of discrimination.”
“We find it very unfortunate that any political leader would send such a message to their constituents that would be so highly offended or hurt by that symbol,” said Stewart, who’s still on the human rights group’s board.
Flags have been potent symbols in North Idaho’s experience with white supremacists.
In 2004, when an 86-year-old Butler held his last neo-Nazi parade through downtown Coeur d’Alene, he rode in the back of a pickup flanked by two Confederate flags, along with swastikas. The flag of Israel dragged on the ground behind the truck, and at one point, some of Butler’s skinhead supporters stomped on it.
Scott’s Facebook post came two weeks after South Carolina lowered the Confederate flag permanently from its state Capitol, as crowds chanted, “USA, USA.” That state had displayed the Confederate battle flag, with its stars and bars, since 1962.
South Carolina lawmakers recently passed legislation calling for its removal after 21-year-old Dylann Roof posed with the flag before gunning down nine black churchgoers in downtown Charleston in June.
“Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment,” said Stewart, a longtime professor of political science at North Idaho College. “But we also would really, really encourage people not to do that, because it doesn’t move us forward towards equality. It resurfaces a form of discrimination.”
Priest River Mayor Jim Martin said he didn’t notice the flag at the parade.
Even so, “I think that things like this will lead to people in other areas characterizing us in a certain way because of the history that we have in North Idaho,” he said, “and then you have one of your elected officials hoisting a Confederate flag. She has every right, for freedom of speech and all that stuff.”
But, he added, “Personally I think she could have used something else to represent her stand for free speech.”
Scott’s Facebook post drew only a handful of comments, all supportive. One supporter wrote, “Thanks for standing up for what we voted for you for.”
The Timber Days festival is an annual community gathering that includes logging-skills competitions, a car cruise and a Little League tournament along with the parade.
Scott, a first-term lawmaker, defeated her Democratic opponent 66 percent to 34 percent for an open legislative seat last November; former longtime state Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest River, had retired after serving five terms.
Anderson said he was “disappointed” to see Scott embrace the Confederate flag on Facebook, and has heard similar sentiments from other area residents. “They’re sick and tired of people coming in from other places, thinking that this is what we are, because it’s not,” he said.
Scott, an aquatic biologist who moved to North Idaho from rural Ohio 16 years ago and has won support from tea party groups, said she never heard a negative word about the flag, which was loaned by a constituent, all day at the Timber Days celebration.
“We put it there to promote freedom of speech,” she said. “I know how sometimes things get twisted, but that’s why we did it. We’d do it again.”
She added, “I’m sure some people find an American flag offensive, right? There’s people that burn it, there’s people that disrespect it. I will never kill someone’s freedom of speech.”