COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Former South Carolina Rep. Bill Cotty, a champion for public education who helped bring the Confederate flag off the Statehouse dome, has died. He was 69.
Cotty died at home in Columbia on Saturday after battling lung cancer, his wife, Amelia, told The Associated Press.
Cotty helped develop the 2000 compromise that moved the Confederate flag from the dome to a 30-foot pole beside a monument to Confederate soldiers. It was a move he’d advocated since his 1994 election as a way to promote racial unity.
“I can’t believe this isn’t the right time for us to say to the state, nation and the rest of the world that South Carolina can see the bigger picture, that we need to respect each other and come together,” he said in 1995, when he voted against a bill keeping the flag on the dome. Only one other Republican voted with him.
He defied the GOP majority again in 1997, when he supported then-Gov. David Beasley’s unsuccessful proposal to move the flag and voted against creating Confederate flag license plates for Sons of Confederate Veterans members.
In 2000, he was instrumental in pushing the compromise through the House, which also made Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Confederate Memorial Day official state holidays.
Last year, legislators voted to remove the battle flag from Statehouse grounds entirely, after authorities say a young white man who had posed with the rebel flag killed nine black church members in Charleston during a Bible study.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Cotty served in the South Carolina Army National Guard for 38 years.
The real estate attorney retired from the South Carolina House after 14 years representing suburban Columbia.
A former school board member, Cotty was an outspoken opponent of efforts to use tax credits to help parents pay for private school, helping to successfully block then-Gov. Mark Sanford’s proposals. He advocated expanding full-day 4-year-old kindergarten.
He also helped write a 2006 tax-relief law that took school operating costs off homeowners’ property tax bills, saying he wanted to end the “growing war” between homeowners and the public school system.
“Bill was a true statesman,” Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, who served with Cotty in the House, said Tuesday. “He had a servant’s heart and care deeply about his community, serving with honor at both the local and state level.”
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