As lawmakers near votes to change state flag, Reeves meets with statewide officials and voices his opposition

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Eric J. Shelton/Mississippi Today, Report For America

Tate Reeves prepares to debate against Bill Waller Jr. during the GOP gubernatorial debate at WJTV studios Wednesday, August 21, 2019.

Gov. Tate Reeves, in the midst of the battle over whether the Legislature will change the Mississippi state flag during the coming days against his wishes, called a meeting Wednesday afternoon attended by five fellow statewide elected officials to discuss the issue.

People familiar with the meeting said Reeves did not attempt to change anyone’s mind, but instead led a general discussion on the flag, the nation’s only state flag to feature the Confederate battle emblem.

One person familiar with the meeting said it appears to have been a meeting “to take the temperature” of the statewide officials and perhaps develop some type of unified front. But by the time of the meeting, held at the Governor’s Mansion, most of the statewide officials had issued a statement on the flag.

At the meeting, Reeves continued to maintain that a vote of the people should be held on whether to change the flag, but he opposed the referendum being this November.

Soon after that meeting, Reeves posted a statement to social media that if the Legislature garnered the two-thirds vote needed in each chamber to change the flag, he would not veto the bill because it would also take a two-thirds vote to override his veto.

“Some legislative leaders have changed their position multiple times in recent days. Right now, they are considering suspending the rules to change the flag. It would take a two-thirds vote. That’s how many it takes to override a veto,” he wrote.

“Make no mistake, a vote to change the rules is a vote to change the flag. If they get those votes, a veto would be pointless. That debate would be over, and the flag would change.”

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who as the Senate’s presiding officer is leading the effort in that chamber to garner the two-thirds majority to change the flag, and Attorney General Lynn Fitch were not at the meeting with Reeves.

On Thursday morning, lawmakers in both the House and the Senate told Mississippi Today they were “within one or two votes” of being able to suspend the legislative rules and change the state flag.

Fitch and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney were the only two statewide officials at a meeting Hosemann and House Speaker Philip Gunn had earlier this week with religious leaders where the flag was discussed. After that meeting, the influential Mississippi Baptist Convention endorsed changing the flag.

Thus far, Reeves and Secretary of State Michael Watson have not taken a position on whether the flag should be changed. Agriculture Commissioner Andy Gipson, Auditor Shad White and Fitch have endorsed changing the banner.

Hosemann and Chaney have endorsed the Legislature changing the banner. Treasurer David McRae said he would support a change by the Legislature or by the people.

In 2001, 64 percent of Mississippians voted to maintain the current flag, though, momentum appears to be growing in recent weeks from the business community, sports figures and others to change the controversial banner.

All of Mississippi’s statewide elected officials are Republican.