Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann broke precedent and assigned legislation that would change the state flag, which contains the Confederate battle emblem, to a little-used committee where it stands little chance of passing.
Hosemann, who wields sole discretion to decide which committees to send legislation, assigned a resolution that would suspend rules for lawmakers to consider changing the state flag to the Senate Constitution committee, which is traditionally reserved for bills that would alter the state Constitution.
The resolution, filed last week by 12 Senate Democrats, bears no relevance to the state Constitution because the state flag is written into state law, not the Constitution. Hosemann’s decision to send the resolution to that committee signals almost certain death as just two of the committee’s nine members have publicly supported changing the flag.
Sen. Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg and chairman of the Senate Constitution committee, told Mississippi Today on Wednesday that he has no intent to call up the resolution for consideration. He says he favors the issue being decided by a vote of the people.
Hosemann’s assignment bypasses the committee that such a resolution would typically be assigned: the five-member Senate Rules committee.
Had Hosemann assigned the resolution to the Rules committee, its chances of passing would be significantly greater. Two of the five members of the Rules committee — Sen. Walter Michel, R-Ridgeland, and Sen. Hillman Frazier, D-Jackson — publicly support changing the state flag.
That would mean that just one of the three other committee members — Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, Sen. Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, or Sen. David Parker, R-Olive Branch — would need to vote yea on the resolution for the bill to advance and reach the Senate floor for a vote. Kirby and Parker have told Mississippi Today in recent days they believe voters, not the Legislature, should decide the fate of the flag. DeBar offered no comment when asked.
Hosemann instead sent the resolution to the Senate Constitution committee, breaking long-standing precedent that he carried out himself earlier this legislative session. Resolutions or bills that would require a suspension of legislative rules are traditionally always sent to the Rules committee. Earlier this legislative session, six such pieces of legislation were filed in the Senate. Hosemann assigned all of them, with the exception of the flag resolution, to the Rules committee.
Meanwhile, Hosemann and his staff have gone out of their way to avoid taking a public position on the state flag. For six days, his staff failed to respond to Mississippi Today requests for comment.
Lawmakers in both the Senate and House have engaged in conversations about changing the state flag since last week as protests about racial equality have continued across the state and nation. Protesters in Mississippi have focused their demands around the state flag, which is the last in the nation containing the Confederate battle emblem.
The only public comments Hosemann has made about the state flag since legislative debate sparked on June 8 was a Tuesday morning appearance on Supertalk Mississippi, a statewide conservative talk show.
After about a 20 minute interview about the state budget and other pieces of legislation, radio show host Gerard Gibert asked Hosemann about the state flag. As soon as the question was asked, producers began playing outro music to signal the coming commercial break and end of the interview.
Hosemann’s 90-second answer did not address his personal thoughts on whether the state flag should change, and he said he had not talked with senators about the issue.
Below is his word-for-word answer to questions about the state flag. This remains his only public comment about the issue since June 8.
Hosemann: “I’ll assign the bill to committee… The resolution will go to committee, and if it comes out, the Senate’s going to vote on it. I’ve taken that position for a long time: We’re not going to hide something on the calendar. Whatever comes out of the committee, we’re fixing to vote.”
“Looking at this, I think time has come for Mississippians to be looking at how we want our flag for the future. Not denigrating any flag of the past or anything else that’s gone on in the past. As you know, Mississippi had — you have to go all the way back to 1830 when we kicked all the Choctaws off their land. When we became a state in 1817, we didn’t own but two-thirds of the state. Under the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, we took the other third from the Choctaws and sent them on a Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.”
“We have a history in Mississippi, and again probably there and has continued on in a number of different events. So I expect Mississippians to start looking for a flag of the future. I don’t know whether it will be the one we have now, or a newer one. There are several different alternatives, but I think it’s time for that discussion to occur.”
“I expect it will end up being both (decided by Legislature and the people of Mississippi). I expect it will come out of the Legislature and being put on a ballot. It’s my estimation; I haven’t asked any of my senators how they want to do that.”
After this story published, Hosemann’s office released a statement.
“I have been, and I am today, in favor of placing a decision on Mississippi’s flag on a statewide ballot,” Hosemann said. “Our citizens are facing many challenges in the economy, healthcare, and education, and the continuing controversy regarding our current banner detracts from addressing these issues. It is time for this controversy to be resolved. I believe the flag which represents me and my grandchildren should reflect all of our citizens’ collective future, as determined by those who will live under that banner.”
Hosemann continued: “The Senate resolution to change the flag was assigned to a committee with a Republican chairman and Democratic vice chairman, and I am hopeful it will receive fair consideration. If the resolution comes out of committee, the Senate will vote.”