January 17, 2021

Mississippi lawmakers ratify new state flag, send matter to governor for signature

The state Senate on Wednesday sent ratification of a new Mississippi flag to the governor — who plans to sign the legislation into law after voters overwhelmingly approved the In God We Trust flag in November.

“We just ratified the voice of the people,” Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said. “(Nearly) 72% of Mississippians voted for a new flag and today the Senate heard their voice.”

The Senate vote was 38-7, with one “present” vote. Republican Sens. Kathy Chism of New Albany, Joey Fillingane of Sumrall, Chris McDaniel of Ellisville, Mike Seymour of Vancleave, Melanie Sojourner of Natchez, Jeff Tate of Meridian and Neil Whaley of Potts Camp voted against codifying the new flag approved by 71.3% of voters on Nov. 3. Sen. Angela Burks Hill, R-Picayune, voted present.

The House on Tuesday voted 119-1 to ratify the new flag. Gov. Tate Reeves’ office on Wednesday said he was planning a bill-signing ceremony for the flag ratification bill.

The Mississippi Legislature in June removed the old flag, which was adopted by racist lawmakers in 1894. It was the last in the nation to carry the divisive Confederate battle emblem. Lawmakers faced growing pressure from religious, business, sports and community leaders to remove the vestige of the state’s Jim Crow past from a flag flying over the state with the largest percentage population of Black residents.

State Senate Minority Leader Derrick T. Simmons on Wednesday had vowed — and delivered — a unanimous vote by Senate Democrats for the new flag.

“My Democratic colleagues and I look forward to casting a vote today that allows all people of Mississippi to have a flag that unites us instead of dividing us and a flag that our future generations can feel is inclusive of them,” Simmons said.

Hosemann said adopting a new flag and removing the one that flew for 126 years with a Confederate battle emblem will improve Mississippi’s image nationwide and abroad, and help “rebrand” the state and improve economic development.

“We’ve already met with (the Mississippi Development Authority) about rebranding Mississippi, and you’ll see as part of that we plan a new business incentive program,” Hosemann said. “… We have a new flag, new business incentives and a new attitude — and we are open for business.”

Hosemann said “I don’t know that we’ll ever know” how much the Confederate flag hurt economic development in Mississippi or how many businesses shied away from locating here.

“Many economic development officials I’ve talked to from Alcorn County to Hancock said it was an impediment,” Hosemann said.

On Nov. 3, Mississippi voters approved the new design in an up-or-down vote after a commission appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker chose the design. The commission reviewed about 3,000 public submissions for new flag designs over the summer and in September chose the new design with a magnolia and stars — a combination of multiple submissions. Lawmakers had stipulated in June that the new design include the words In God We Trust and that it not include the Confederate battle emblem.

But one group, Let Mississippi Vote, hopes to overturn the Legislature’s removal of the old flag. It has mounted a petition drive to place on the ballot — as early as 2022 — an initiative that would allow voters to restore the 1894 flag, or select other options including the In God We Trust flag.

McDaniel said his vote Wednesday against the new flag “was more about the process than it was about the flag.”

“The people of Mississippi were not given a voice because they were not given an election,” McDaniel said. “It is not actually an election when you are not provided but one option. That does not equate to a fair election.”

McDaniel said he is working with the Let Mississippi Vote group to put an initiative on the ballot with four options. He said he would probably vote for the old flag if given the choice, because he was tired “of the mindset” that just because something is offensive it should be changed or censored.

By Geoff Pender and Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today