A Mississippi state flag flies at a residence near Choctaw, Miss., on Wednesday, June 24, 2020.

Although the party proper hasn’t taken a stance on changing the state flag, the chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party says it’s time.

“My personal view is that now is the time for Mississippi to retire its current flag and adopt a flag that unifies all Mississippians,” state Republican Party Chairman Lucien Smith said in a statement Wednesday. His statement comes as GOP legislative leaders try to whip votes in their Republican supermajority to change the flag and remove its controversial Confederate battle emblem.

It’s a heavy lift – changing the flag this late in a legislative session would require a two-thirds vote of lawmakers. Many Republican lawmakers oppose changing the flag, particularly without a popular vote on the issue. Some who want the Legislature to change it fear a backlash from their constituents.

And the state’s Republican governor – the de facto head of the state GOP – opposes the Legislature changing the flag.

Smith’s office stressed that while he was not making the statement for the state GOP, he was making it “in his role as chairman of the party.”

Smith’s statement appears to differ from those of Gov. Tate Reeves, who has refused to say whether he supports changing the flag. He has said that any change to the flag should be made by popular vote, not by elected lawmakers. However, on Wednesday night, Reeves indicated he would not veto a legislative flag change.

The state Democratic Party and its chairman, former longtime lawmaker Bobby Moak, support the Legislature changing the flag. The party issued a statement on June 19 endorsing change of the flag.

While the push to change the flag has long been led by Democrats, Moak, and at times the Democratic Party proper, have faced criticism for being reticent to take a strong stand on changing it, particularly on the Legislature changing it without a popular referendum.

On Thursday, Moak said any past reluctance was “the party getting behind our elected officials and not in front of them.” He said the Democratic Party is unified on changing the flag and on lawmakers doing it now.

“I think the Legislature should do it and act on it before the session gets out,” Moak said. Later, he added, “My personal statement is also that of the party.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.