ATLANTA – Gov. Sonny Perdue (search) has inherited the wrath of many people who favor a return of the Confederate emblem to the Georgia flag.
His predecessor, former Gov. Roy Barnes, blamed his November election defeat largely on the votes of those who rabidly opposed his introduction of a state banner that vastly reduced the emblem that had been prominently displayed on the flag since 1956.
Perdue promised a referendum on the state flag, but the bill he signed omits the Rebel emblem as a choice.
The day Perdue was inaugurated, three planes circled downtown Atlanta for 11 hours, towing 33-foot banners that featured the 1956 state flag with its Confederate battle emblem. "Let Us Vote, You Promised," one banner read.
The aerial "flagging" has since been duplicated twice: an April 17 meeting of the Republican Governors Association (search) at Lake Oconee and May 17 over the state Republican convention in Macon.
Who is behind the flights is a mystery.
Mitch and Bonnie Mordas, who operate Bonnie's Banners in Pike County, were paid at least $10,000 for the inaugural flight.
Mitch Mordas said he does not know who arranged "and it's better that I don't know."
"But every time, it's been the same M.O.," he said.
First, there is an anonymous phone call dictating the messages to be flown by the tow planes, followed by cash at the doorstep.
Confederate heritage activists scoff at the notion their organizations could afford the $275 per flying hour.
Republicans insist the expense and sophisticated targeting point to a dirty-tricks operation sponsored by Democrats eager to keep Perdue feeling heat on the flag.
"I'm waiting for Toto to pull down the curtain and reveal Oz," said Scott Rials, executive director of the state GOP.
Democrats point the finger at the Rebel flag enthusiasts, or "flaggers," who contributed to Barnes' re-election defeat.
Mordas will not say whether the cash payment for their services is delivered by a man or a woman, though he and his wife will say it's the same person each time.
A spokeswoman for the governor declined to comment on the aerial protests.
On their last flyover, pilots were instructed to take pictures and e-mail the images to political reporters and to The Georgia Reporter, a Democratic-leaning Web site.
"It sounds like something a political operative would do," said the GOP's Rials.
Democrats say they are no more likely to want a revival of the tortured flag issue than Perdue.
"We're not going to spend that kind of money on something like that," said Jeff DiSantis, executive director of the state Democratic Party. "We're ready to move on."