COLUMBIA — Before this week, state Rep. Mike Pitts was primarily known for his unflinching support for gun rights and a failed attempt a few years ago to replace paper money with gold and silver coins minted by South Carolina.
On Wednesday, the Laurens Republican became the face of the opposition to removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds, defying Gov. Nikki Haley and his own party’s leadership by filing dozens of amendments that have stalled a bill that raced through the Senate earlier in the week.
Pitts, a 13-year Statehouse veteran and retired police officer, said he was raised with reverence for the Confederate flag, promising to fight the removal of the flag until he couldn’t anymore.
“I associate that with scrubbing history,” Pitts said. “I associate that as the first move of a much larger movement to eliminate all things Southern.”
The Confederate battle flag flew from the Capitol dome for decades, and now is on a 30-foot pole by the Confederate Soldier Monument near the Statehouse steps.
While there have been protests in the past, it became a flashpoint in the weeks after the killing of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight other parishioners by a white gunman at Charleston’s historic black Emanuel AME Church.
Pitts said his ancestors were “mountain folks” who lived in the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia through Virginia, and were told at the start of the Civil War, “We’ve got to raise an army. The Yankees have invaded us.”
“The good ol’ boys, my ancestors, said, ‘Hell, yeah,’” Pitts said. “They grabbed their squirrel rifles and off they went to fight a war. All they knew was that the Northern states were trying to dictate to the Southern states what to do.”
He said his grandmother read him documents and letters his great uncles sent home from the war, adding in no way was he raised to associate the rebel banner with anything negative toward his “black brethren.”
Pitts said Wednesday he would withdraw all his amendments setting the stage for a vote if the House would agree to replace the rebel battle flag with the banner of the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Regiment Flag. As of 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, variants of the amendment had been presented and failed several times on close votes.
Pitts is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and a career hunter. He’s a member of the North American Hunting Club, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the National Wild Turkey Federation.
In 2010 he introduced a bill requiring South Carolina to stop recognizing U.S. currency as legal tender. Instead, the state would have established an economy based on gold and silver coins.
In an interview then, Pitts said he believed “if the federal government continues to spend money at the rate it’s spending money, and if it continues to print money at the rate it’s printing money, our economic system is going to collapse.”
He also supports concealed weapons bills, the castle doctrine and the state‘s “Second Amendment Weekend” that waives sales tax on handguns, rifles and shotguns.
“We are a gun-owning-tradition state, a hunting-tradition state,” said Pitts in 2008. “Quite often people will buy their pop or grandpop a shotgun or rifle to hunt with for Christmas,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press by cell phone while out hunting.