By Gordon Jackson

State Rep. Jason Spencer is apologizing for suggesting a former Democratic lawmaker could "go missing in the Okefenokee" for saying it's time to remove Confederate memorials in South Georgia.

Spencer, R-Woodbine, said he respects former state Rep. LaDawn Jones of Atlanta, praising her ability to advocate strongly for what she believes.

"I regret that my choice of words in warning LaDawn about the possibility of violence has been misinterpreted as a threat against her or anyone else who would like to see historic monuments to the Confederacy removed," he said Wednesday in an email to The News.

He said Jones has never backed down from a debate with him, even when those debates appeared hostile or rude.

"LaDawn and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum, but I am glad that she wants to learn how people with different world views think," he said. "It's a rare trait in most people, and she deserves praise and respect for having it."

Spencer said he was trying to warn Jones in response to her Facebook posts that "there really are people who would harm others over the issue."

"In light of the recent tragic murder of a woman in Charlottesville, I believe that a certain degree of caution is necessary. I still do," he said.

The debate started after Spencer posted a photo of himself at the Jefferson Davis Memorial site in Irwinville and responded to Jones, who told him to "get it in... before it is torn down."

In a back and forth debate on Facebook, Jones told Spencer to "put your hood and tiki torches away."

"We are no longer afraid. We will not let you hide hate behind heritage," she wrote.

Spencer described her position as a "quixotic journey to erase history like the Bolsheviks."

"Looks like you are afflicted with the same position you claim to fight against," he said. "I can guarantee you won't be met with torches, but something a lot more definitive. People in South Georgia are people of action, not drama."

Spencer, in his response Wednesday, condemned racism, saying white supremacy and any group from the Ku Klux Klan to today's neo-Nazis espouse "vile beliefs" that should not be tolerated.

"The racial division in our nation is terrible, and is going to get worse if my colleague and I cannot have the kind of conversation we had on social media, and will continue to have face-to-face," he said.

Future conversations about Confederate monuments are likely to happen in the future, Spencer predicted.

"It is a painful conversation that we need to have, in our communities, our state, and our nation," he said. "I'm grateful that LaDawn Jones is willing to start that conversation with me, and I hope that our experience will start similar conversations among others."

(c)2017 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)