Home » OPINION » Columns » BOBBY HARRISON: Many factors in play with politics of the state flag

BOBBY HARRISON: Many factors in play with politics of the state flag

BOBBY HARRISON

BOBBY HARRISON

In 2001, supporters of those wanting to change the controversial state flag, led by the Mississippi Economic Council, tried to have an election without telling anyone.

They did not get the desired result. In that April statewide vote, 494,323 (64.4 percent) voted to keep the current state flag, which has the Confederate battle emblem as a significant portion of its design, while 273,359 voted for the new banner. A total of 767,682 voted compared to 893,468 who voted for governor in 2011 and the 1,285,584 who voted for president in 2012.

Obviously it is a bit of an exaggeration to say the MEC tried to have an election without telling anyone, but the theory was not to inflame the controversial issue and to limit the rhetoric and that the silent majority would go the polls to vote to change the flag.

Needless to say, it did not work out like that.

The flag, which some say is a symbol of hate and slavery and others argue represents the state’s heritage, is still an issue. And the mixed signals surrounding the flag not only apply to its meaning, but also to the politicians who hold sway over the future of the symbol.

Apparently there are politicians in Tupelo city government who believe after a closed door meeting with Republican Gov. Phil Bryant that he intends to make as part of his legislative agenda for 2017 changing the flag. They have stated such publicly. But the governor says that is not the case. He says his position remains that he would like another statewide vote on the issue.

There also are those who believe that a new banner presented by the MEC highlighting the state’s bicentennial in 2017 could eventually morph into at least an unofficial state flag that could be flown by the local governmental entities and public universities that have opted not to fly the official flag.

That is a novel approach. Change the flag without telling anyone.

That might help solve what some see as a problem in the short run. But eventually, the Mississippi Legislature is going to have to vote on the issue again. With all of Mississippi’s public universities not flying the flag and countess local governments and school districts doing the same, legislators eventually will have to act.

They can do like they did in 2001 and vote to place the issue on the ballot to let the people decide. Or legislators can vote to keep the current flag or approve a new one.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, has endorsed changing the flag.

Over in the Senate, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the presiding officer and already eyeing a run for an open governor’s seat in 2019, has expressed no interest – at least publicly – in changing the flag.

It is hard to imagine a scenario where Reeves would support changing the flag through a legislative vote without putting the issue to a statewide referendum.

It also is difficult to fathom – after observing the issue up close in 2001 – a majority of the public voting to change the flag. Of course, your humble scribe could be wrong.

It happens from time to time.

An interesting observation is that while in the House, where the presiding officer supports changing the flag, it seems obvious that the votes are lacking to accomplish that goal.

Could Gunn expend extraordinary political to change the flag? Perhaps, but he must be thinking why try to undertake such a Herculean effort if Reeves and Bryant, who would ultimately have to sign any flag legislation into law, are not on board.

By far, the most interesting part of the equation is that in the Senate, if a flag bill ever was voted on by the full chamber, it is feasible that there are enough votes to change the flag. It is possible that there are enough members of the Republican majority who would vote with near unanimous support of the Democratic minority  to carry the day for a new flag.

But if the presiding officer of the Senate is not on board, that scenario is not likely to happen.

» Bobby Harrison can be reached at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com, or call (601) 946-9931.

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