ATLANTA – The debate over Georgia's state flag has created a rift not only in the state's Democratic Party — lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in the state Legislature are hoping a technical impasse will get rid of the issue for good.
White Democrats from rural areas seem to support Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue (search)'s proposal for a statewide referendum on the flag next year.
Perdue's bill, which is working its way through the Legislature, would allow voters to choose among the new design or a series of alternatives.
But white Democrats in urban areas, as well as all black Democrats, generally oppose the idea of a referendum. They fear that if the decision is left up to the public, the Confederate battle flag (search) — sometimes called the "Southern Cross" — will once again be on Georgia's flag, as it was from 1956 until 2001.
The Confederate battle flag has become a hotly contested issue across the South and lower Midwest. Earlier this year in Missouri, it was taken down at a handful of historic sites after Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Dick Gephardt called for its removal.
In South Carolina, the Confederate flag, which had flown below the official state flag atop the statehouse dome, was removed in July 2000 after an economic boycott led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (search).
This week, the Georgia Senate passed a bill approving a new, temporary flag, loosely based on the original flag of the Confederacy — otherwise known as the "Stars and Bars" — rather than the more recognizable battle flag.
Before the bill goes to the governor's desk, it must head back to the House because the Senate added a few amendments, including one to increase the proposed flag's dimensions.
By a vote of 111 to 67, the state House approved the governor's referendum proposal. But the bill hit a snag in the Senate, when lawmakers discovered that the wording of the bill called for a 3-by-6-foot state flag instead of the standard 3-by-5.
That slightly larger size would mean that the proposed Georgia flag would be larger than the American flag when hanging on an outside pole, which isn't acceptable.
"It's not supposed to be larger than the U.S. flag," said Bob Rosenthal of the Atlas Flag Co. "That's just not the protocol."
Senators deliberately added the proportions amendment in the hope that the bill would flounder when it went back to the House.
"I am elated," said Democratic state Sen. Nadine Thomas. "Our strategy was to get amendments on the bill, get it back to the House and I'm certain that it's going to die."
Other senators say they don't want to see the proposal fizzle.
"This thing has gone too long and too far to abandon it now," said Republican state Sen. Dan Lee.
The amended bill goes before the state House on Friday, the last day of the legislative session. With strong passions burning on both sides of the debate, the outcome could have a lasting effect on Georgia politics.
Some worry that the flag battle could be the start of a division within the state Democratic Party.
"If this split that we saw on the flag issue came up again and again on other policy issues, you really would have a divided Democratic Party," said Merle Black of Emory University. "You'd have conservative white Georgia Democrats often voting with white Republicans, and that would constitute a new majority coalition in the state."
Fox News' Jonathan Serrie contributed to this report.