It was a tough vote in an election year, but Kim Elton had done it before.
Juneau's Democratic senator was the lone dissenter Monday in Senate approval of a resolution urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment against "physical desecration" of the American flag.
The resolution, which earlier passed the House 38-0, got an 18-1 vote in the Senate.
Elton, a former Empire editor who's finishing up his first four-year term as a senator, cast a similar vote in 1998 as a member of the House. He said it came up during his general election campaign for the Senate, when he ran against Republican Don Abel.
"I think in our community people don't expect to agree with our elected leaders 100 percent of the time," Elton said this morning. "(But) I think it is a wedge issue."
During Senate debate Monday, Judiciary Chairman Robin Taylor, a Wrangell Republican, said destroying an American flag is an incitement to violence, an act that causes witnesses to "forget about the laws of civil society." Just as there is no free speech protection for "yelling fire in a crowded theater," there shouldn't be any for destroying the flag, Taylor said.
Sen. Jerry Ward, a Kenai Republican, reminded colleagues that he's a Vietnam veteran. "We did fight for the flag," Ward said.
But Elton also was in Vietnam, serving in the Army for a year during 1969-70.
"I was fighting and serving for the things the flag stood for. The flag is a symbol," Elton said. "I find it deeply offensive if someone 'desecrates' the flag.
" 'Desecrate' to me is odd language. If you look it up, it means sacred. To me, that speaks to my religious life. ... I don't think government should be in the position of defining in the constitution what's offensive and what isn't offensive."
Elton also said it's inconsistent for senators to urge protection of the flag but not support legislation from Gov. Tony Knowles, another Vietnam vet, to make veterans officially a part of the state Pioneers' Homes. The Republican-led Legislature hasn't acted on the Democratic governor's bill to fill empty beds in the homes, reserve a percentage of them for veterans and change the name of the system to include veterans.
Alaska is near the top nationally in veterans per capita and yet is the only state with no veterans home or plans for one, Elton noted. "If we truly wanted to honor this nation, I'd think we'd do more to honor the veterans who served this nation."
The only Republican to have announced a campaign for Elton's seat, former Juneau Assembly member and businesswoman Cathy Munoz, said she doesn't expect the flag vote to be a big campaign issue.
"I'm not going to make it a central issue of the campaign," Munoz said this morning. "I'm having a hard time understanding the justification for his vote. ... People can make up their own minds."
Bill McAllister can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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