DES MOINES — A firestorm erupted within the Iowa Republican Party Monday over the inclusion of three Confederate flags in two Marion County Fourth of July parades that represented a clash of free speech rights versus a display of family heritage.
The flags, their use made even more volatile by a recent shooting rampage in a South Carolina church, were displayed on a truck in Independence Day parades in Pella and Pleasantville Saturday as part of the Marion County GOP central committee’s entries.
Marion County Republican Co-chairwoman T. Waldmann-Williams said the couple who own the truck, Owen Golay and Linda Golay of Pleasantville, who are members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization, have resigned from the party’s central committee.
Waldmann-Williams said she spoke with Owen Golay about the flags because she disagreed with their display on the parade float. But she decided it was within his free speech rights to make a statement, “which is why I did not ask him to take them down.”
“He knew that we disagreed about the Confederate flag. I feel that it represents a very divided concern in our country. It’s always concerned me about that flag,” Waldmann-Williams said.
“I’m accountable for what happened, I’ll say that up front,” she added. “It hurts me that I caused so much division. It was essentially my decision to not request him to take it down ... .”
Waldmann-Williams said she had communicated with other Republican central committee members about the situation and plans to suggest that in the future any issue that is not agreeable to the committee would have to be represented as a separate float not affiliated with the local Republican Party.
“I’m sorry that it caused some division, but we learn from it,” she said.
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“We have a number of elephants that are made of plywood and painted, and that’s traditionally what’s been on our floats for the last six years or so,” said Ed Bull, Marion County Republican Central Committee co-chairman and Marion County Attorney.
“At this time, the individuals who brought the vehicle and the float upon arriving at the Pleasantville parade and later at the Pella parade had decorated the vehicle, which was pulling the float, with three Confederate flags, which represented the three confederate soldiers buried in Marion County.”
Bull said that, “I’m the first person to say everyone is entitled to freedom of speech, but I do think we need to do recognize that flag on one hand demonstrates pride of the individual who believes in it but is a hurtful message to thousands of individuals who equate that with slavery.”
A call to Golays was not returned by The Gazette’s deadline.
Word of the float displaying three Confederate flags under the GOP banner drew an immediate rebuke Monday from Jeff Kaufmann, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa, who expressed disgust and condemnation.
“I am just absolutely, utterly disgusted on multiple levels,” Kaufmann said in a telephone interview. “Shame on them and I don’t want them in my party.”
The Wilton Republican said he attempted to contact the leader of the local Marion County Republican Party after being informed of that the Confederate flag was included on the GOP parade entry but was unable to reach her and left a message expressing his outrage.
Republican Gov. Terry Branstad called the Confederate flag display in an Iowa parade “just wrong and disrespectful” to Iowans who served in the Civil War.
“That’s really disloyal to all those veterans from Iowa that fought to save the union and fought against that flag, so I just think that is most inappropriate,” Branstad said. “It’s disrespectful to all those Iowans from Marion County that went down to fight to save the union, so I’m totally baffled that that would happen in this state.”
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Kaufmann said the Republican officials involved in the incident need to apologize to the people of Iowa and to the Republican Party of Iowa, especially for disrespecting the 17,000 Iowans who died in the American Civil War 150 years ago while fighting as part of the Union army.
“I’m disappointed in what I’ve heard. I condemn their actions on behalf of the Republican Party of Iowa in the strongest words possible,” Kaufman said. “I’m very disappointed that a local central committee would engage in such juvenile and stupid demonstrations.”
Kaufmann, a history professor, said word of the Pella display angered him because he just delivered a speech Sunday honoring the Iowans who died in the Civil War.
“We are the party of Abraham Lincoln. We were the party that supported the Union army and we are still that party of Abraham Lincoln. I absolutely won’t tolerate it. We have no room in our party for people like that — none,” he said. “I hope they toss those people out (of the local GOP) so fast, it’ll make your head swim. And, if they don’t, I’ll lead a party of 98 central committees.””
Reporter Jessie Hellmann contributed to this story.