When South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Monday for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from State House grounds, the leaders flanking her painted a bipartisan tableau of diversity and unity.
But not all of South Carolina's elected leaders have joined the chorus. Ten state representatives voted "nay" on Tuesday to proceed with debate this summer about the flag's removal. One of them was Eric Bedingfield, who in addition to representing a conservative Greenville area district in the state House serves as a top congressional staffer and political adviser to a star congressman, Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.).
The South Carolina state House voted 103-10 on Tuesday on House Bill 787, which allows the legislature to consider removing the flag during a special session later this summer. The state Senate approved the measure by voice vote.
Bedingfield did not respond to a call or e-mail seeking comment on Tuesday night, nor did a spokeswoman for Mulvaney.
Bedingfield's vote against the measure is noteworthy because he has an unusual profile in the legislature. His boss, Mulvaney, is a rising Republican star in South Carolina who swept into office during the 2010 tea party wave and represents one of the more conservative parts of the state. Mulvaney is talked about as a future statewide candidate, perhaps for governor in 2018 when Haley will be term-limited.
Bedingfield is Mulvaney's deputy chief of staff and has served as his campaign manager. (Service in South Carolina's legislature is part-time and many lawmakers have outside employment.)
Mulvaney has been less than unequivocal as he waded into the Confederate flag debate this week.
Mulvaney issued a 648-word statement on Tuesday saying he was "disappointed" by what he sees as an untimely and "divisive" debate about the flag on the heels of a tragedy. He acknowledged that the flag means "different things to different people" and that he hopes the state legislature will fashion a compromise to remove the flag in a way that fosters unity.
But Mulvaney concluded his statement by suggesting: "Perhaps those who are now trying to focus attention on the flag are spending their time on the wrong things."
Update, 11 a.m. Wednesday:
In a statement Wednesday morning, Bedingfield said his vote was "in no way reflective on whether or not I think the flag should be removed. I simply wanted to take this up in regular order, vet different proposals, hear from differing perspectives and attempt to craft a solution that best fits the people we represent." He added that when issues move quickly through the legislature, "problems always seem to creep up."
Mulvaney's spokeswoman, Stephanie Faile, said that Bedingfield left the congressman's official staff in 2013, but remains as his campaign manager.
Mulvaney issued a statement Wednesday morning distancing himself from Bedingfield's vote.
"Yes, Mr. Bedingfield is on the payroll of my campaign," Mulvaney said. "But let me be clear: I don't tell the folks who work with me how to think."
The congressman said that "some media outlets have tried to twist that vote into some sort of statement about my own position on the issue." But, he added, "I support the General Assembly coming to an agreement to remove the flag from the State House grounds."