By BOBBY HARRISON
A litany of conservative issues dominated the speech-making last week at the annual Neshoba County Fair political speakings, ranging from opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion to support for gun rights and tax cuts.
But nary a word was spoken from the stage of the tin-roofed Founders Square Pavilion about a controversial issue facing the state that splits Mississippi’s conservative Republican leadership – what to do with the state flag that features prominently the controversial Confederate battle emblem as part of its design.
After his speech, Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, responding to a question, said he believes the state “missed a good opportunity” by not having it on the November election ballot for voters to decide.
Last year, Bryant said he supported placing the issue on the November ballot, though, there was little effort during the 2016 session to pass a bill to place the flag issue on the ballot.
In general, most Democratic politicians, who are in a distinct minority in the state, have voiced support for changing the flag. But such is not the case with the state’s Republican political leadership.
But interestingly, of the Republican politicians who spoke over the two-days at the fair, at least two prominent ones have voiced support for changing the flag – state House Speaker Philip Gunn of Clinton and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker of Tupelo.
Neither mentioned the flag during their speeches last week, though.
But when asked about the flag after his speech, Bryant said, there appears to be “a changing dynamic” regarding the flag and “I think their voices need to be heard.”
To do that, the issue needs to be on the ballot, the governor has maintained.
Many believe any effort to change the flag through a referendum will be unsuccessful as it was in 2001 by a overwhelming 494,323 to 273,359 margin. That is why many supporters of changing the flag advocate for the change to be made by the Legislature.
In past interviews, Gunn has said that “is a conversation we will continue having. To do anything around here you must get 62 votes.”
And the 62 votes Gunn were referring to takes into account only the votes needed in the House to change the flag, and does not include the votes that will be needed in the Senate where Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the presiding officer, has given no indication he would support changing the emblem without voter approval.
Gunn originally made his comments about changing the flag last summer after the tragic shooting death of nine people at an African American church in South Carolina allegedly by a white supremacist who touted the Confederate flag on social media.
Supporters of changing the flag say it is a symbol of slavery and oppression, while opponents say the flag represents the heritage and history of the region.
It seemed that momentum for changing the flag might be growing after the conservative-leaning Southern Baptist Convention voiced support for changing the emblem during its annual meeting in June.
But there was little evidence of that momentum during the annual Neshoba County Fair political speakings where the emblem was flown prominently throughout the fairgrounds.
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