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OP-ED – Will a new unlikely political...

OP-ED – Will a new unlikely political coalition form to scuttle a new Mississippi flag?

By: Editor - July 1, 2020

With the ink barely dry on Mississippi’s landmark legislation that sets the framework for a new state flag ushering in a nationally recognized wave of good tidings in the Magnolia State, there could be emerging an effort to beat whatever comes out of the nine member commission that will be tasked with building a new state flag with the motto In God We Trust.

In other words, there’s still a lot of work to do.

First, let’s recap how we got here.  This effort involved an amazing amount of work by legislators of both parties working with grassroots organizers, business, the higher education community and those in the faith community.  Two of the major compromises that in fact got the legislation across the line was (1) the requirement that the new flag would feature In God We Trust (Delbert Hosemann said that was critical), as our state seal currently does and (2) that voters would get the ability to affirm that vote in a referendum.  And of course, assuming that the voters do not affirm the decision placed on the ballot, that process would repeat itself until a flag was chosen by a majority of Mississippi voters.

There’s a super unlikely coalition growing that both seem intent on scuttling the new flag.

First, there are the folks who didn’t want to lose the old flag in the first place.  They’re numerous.  They’re really upset and activated on social media.  By some estimates, a new flag starts off with probably 25-35% (and possibly more) of Mississippians that are just going to vote no to whatever design that comes out – just because.  They’re largely rural white voters who reliably show up to the polls.

But their allies in the fight against a new flag would make rather odd bedfellows with the hard right.  There is a growing group of folks who supported the Hospitality Flag nee Stennis Flag that seem to be urging their supporters to scuttle the upcoming flag vote to force the flag debate back into the legislature and/or on a separate referendum.  This is primarily because their design of choice, the Stennis Flag, by law doesn’t meet the requirements of having “In God We Trust”.  They’ll have a ton of help from the media in making their case.  White elite and entitled intellectuals, put simply, want their way – trying to dictate to state when coming together suits everyone’s interests.  But the progeny of ‘50s-‘60s Mississippi segregationist powerhouse politicians has led long enough.

Using five dollar words like “vexillology” (the study of flags) and extolling rather high-minded, elitist flag design parameters to try overpower the rural “rubes” and sell the inevitability of their preferred design, on the eve of the legislation being signed by the Governor, they were essentially trying to vitiate any flag with In God We Trust as illegitimate and unacceptable.

And even though their own message said not 48 hours earlier that “never use writing on any kind of or an organization’s seal”, on Wednesday the Stennis/Hospitality flag crew came out with another contradictory message that in fact did have words on it.

Go figure.

There also may yet be a small subset of voters “triggered” over the use of “In God We Trust” on secular grounds, but generally think of the grand coalition against the new flag as Subaru/Starbucks voters meets One America Network voters.

So what would be left to ward off the efforts to vote down the Flag Commission’s designated design are the more center and center right Republican voters and black voters.  Both groups hold faith central to their value systems.  Think of it as the 2020 version of the redneck blackneck coalition from the 1970s Mississippi.

Now if you had told any Mississippian on June 1, 2020 who wanted a new flag (which was likely not a majority, or if so only barely) that you would be able by the end of the month to retire the existing flag in this legislative session and replace it with a flag that said In God We Trust, there’s not a single one of them, black or white, that wouldn’t have taken you up on that bargain.   Because it was so unthinkable.  And yet, there will likely be an organized, funded “anti” campaign precisely from the folks who ostensibly signaled they wanted a new flag the most – that is, if they don’t get their way.

The soon-to-be-appointed Flag Commission consisting of nine appointees (three from Tate Reeves, three from Delbert Hosemann, and three from Philip Gunn) will really need to be a stellar group.  And those three are going to have to do something they’re not collectively great at – coordinating their efforts.  It goes without saying that the Commission should “look like Mississippi”.  You can bet that the Hospitality flag voters are going to be putting a major push on Gunn and Hosemann to have folks predisposed to their solution picked.  But the Commission is going to need a mix from the faith community, the business community, the political community, higher ed, and possibly even a celebrity or two.  And the effort will need to be well funded.  They’re going to have to intake, synthesize and, most importantly, sell a consensus flag design so that the voters of Mississippi only have to go through this once.  This is not something that the Legislature is going to want to handle (again) in 2021.  But that’s exactly what the “my-flag-my-way” voters want to have happen.  In retrospect, they don’t like the bargain that made what they initially said they wanted possible.

If a flag commission decides that some derivative of the Stennis Flag is best for the state of Mississippi, so be it.  But good pollsters have at least some benchmark that the State Seal Flag polls substantially better.

They say politics makes strange bedfellows.  In a year like 2020 that no one saw coming, it will be up to Mississippians of good faith in November to fulfill one of the most grand political reckonings in my lifetime – to permanently replace the state flag.


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