State Sen. Stephen Knight's recent vote against a measure barring the display or sale of Confederate flag images from state museums and gift shops has caused a stir in the High Desert district where he is running for Congress this fall.
The Palmdale Republican was one of only three state legislators who voted against the bill by Assemblyman Isadore Hall III (D-Compton), which won final passage in the Assembly last week and was sent to the governor.
The others voting against the bill, AB 2444, were Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) and state Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine).
Hall introduced the bill after his mother saw a replica of Confederate money sold in the Capitol gift shop. The money contained a picture of the flag.
When the bill passed the Assembly on a bipartisan 66-1 vote, Hall said it represented lawmakers "standing together united to fend off the ugly hatred of racism that's been portrayed and demonstrated through the emblem of the Confederacy."
But Knight said he saw free-speech issues with the bill that could pose problems for private vendors who operate gift shops on state sites.
"It's not that I condone the Confederate flag, but I believe there are constitutional issues," Knight said in an interview Wednesday.
He added that his office is looking into asking the governor's staff to develop a comprehensive policy that could achieve the bill's goal without what he sees as its downsides.
Knight is running to succeed retiring Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) in a district that is becoming increasingly racially diverse and where the once-solid Republican registration edge over Democrats has slipped to 38% to 37%.
His opponent is another Republican, former state legislator Tony Strickland, who placed first in the June primary, just ahead of second-place finisher Knight in the eight-candidate field. The state's election system allows only the top two finishers, regardless of party, to advance to the fall election.
The candidates are going to need Democratic and unaligned voters in what may be a close race.
Johnathon Ervin, president of the Democratic Club of the High Desert, has arranged a Sept. 2 meeting between Knight and several community activists.
"Lots of residents have been calling me, very upset as to why our state senator chose to vote in this fashion," Ervin said. He added that he understands Knight's constitutional concerns but "we definitely need to have some discussion on exactly how he came to the 'no' vote."
Knight's vote also got a lot of attention on Facebook and in the local media.
"Many of the senator's constituents are concerned about the way he voted on this bill," said community activist Veronica Fields, who plans to attend the meeting with Knight.
"I don't think any reasonable American believes that Confederate memorabilia should be sold on state-owned property or by state agencies," Strickland campaign spokesman Evan Handy said.
"California was never part of the Confederacy, and the Civil War ended 150 years ago," Handy said. "Who could defend this?"
Knight said he is not concerned about what effect the vote might have on his congressional race.
"I vote on what I think my district will want and on morals and ethics," Knight said. "I try not to vote on politics."