As leaders continue to count votes to change state flag, Hosemann throws support behind legislative action

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Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/ Report for America

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann

Though legislative leaders have indicated they don’t yet have the votes necessary to change the state flag, a new comment from Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann suggests the Mississippi Legislature may take action after all.

“… the Legislature in 1894 selected the current flag and the Legislature should address it today.  Failing to do so only harms us and postpones the inevitable,” Hosemann said in a statement Wednesday.

Hosemann, whose previous public statements have indicated that he believes the state flag should be changed via referendum, made clear Wednesday that he now believes it should be done solely by the Legislature. The statement comes as lawmakers face increasing pressure to change the state flag, which contains the Confederate battle emblem.

Hosemann and Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton have been meeting behind closed doors this week to garner votes. When asked several questions Wednesday about where the flag change movement stands in the House, Gunn repeatedly said “We continue to gauge where we are,” and would not comment further.

House Democratic Leader Rep. Robert Johnson III on Wednesday said, “We’re within single digits of having the votes for a suspension resolution.”

“The more organizations that come out in support of changing the flag helps,” Johnson, of Natchez, said. “I’m confident we’ll take a vote on a bill before we leave … It’s churning every day. The leadership is working the votes.”

A growing list of businesses, cities, counties and other groups have either stopped flying the flag or asked leaders to change it. Religious leaders have spoken out, saying changing the flag is a “moral issue.”  The NCAA, SEC, and Conference USA this month took action to ban post-season play in the state until the flag is changed.

As for what a replacement should look like, Hosemann said “In my mind, our flag should bear the Seal of the Great State of Mississippi and state “In God We Trust.” I am open to bringing all citizens together to determine a banner for our future.”

Other statewide elected officials have also spoken out in favor of changing the state flag.

Like Hosemann, Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch supports the idea of adding “In God We Trust” to the seal. On Wednesday she released a statement that did not address the Confederate battle emblem specifically, but said it was her personal belief that it’s time to change the state flag.

“The addition of the motto “In God We Trust,” from our State seal is the perfect way to demonstrate who we are to all,” Fitch said.

Also on Wednesday, State Auditor Shad White said:

“If there were a vote to remove the Confederate imagery from our flag, I would vote to remove it….I’m just telling you what I think — that we can have a flag that is more unifying than the one we have now.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson on Wednesday issued a statement:

“It is my position that any change in the state flag should be made by the people of Mississippi in a statewide vote.  I support a change; but it is a decision Mississippians should make, and my sense is our people are ready, willing and able to decide the issue at the ballot box.  If put to a referendum, I would support the ‘In God We Trust’ flag as the single best alternative to bring Mississippians of all races and backgrounds together, a goal I believe most Mississippians share.”

Late Wednesday Secretary of State Michael Watson released a statement not saying whether he supports changing the flag, but did advocate for an election on the issue.

“Once the Legislature handed the voters the authority to change our flag in 2001, any option other than allowing them the vote again would be usurping that authority,” Watson said. “The flag represents the place we all call home, so every one of us should have a voice in the decision to keep it or change it.”

Treasurer David McRae has not responded to requests for comments.

State Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney said this week that he believes elected officials should take action to adopt a new flag that represents all Mississippians.

“Now is the time for the present Mississippi state flag to be retired and replaced,” Chaney said. “If citizens want a new flag or want to keep the old flag they should express their opinion to their elected legislators and at the ballot box.”

Gov. Tate Reeves continues to opposes the Legislature changing the flag without a vote of the people. He has refused to say whether he would vote for a new flag if the issue was on the ballot.