The Mississippi state flag flies in downtown Jackson on Thursday, June 25, 2020.

Gov. Tate Reeves, who has been opposed to the Legislature changing the flag without a popular vote in a referendum, declared on social media on Saturday morning: “If they send me a bill this weekend, I will sign it.”

Reeves made the comment as lawmakers arrived at the Capitol Saturday morning, when lawmakers have been planning to begin the legislative process to address the flag on Saturday.

“The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it,” Reeves said. He said uniting the state after the flag debate will be difficult and vowed to “work night and day to do it.”

“It will be harder than recovering from tornadoes, harder than historic floods, harder than agency corruption, or prison riots are the coming hurricane season — even harder than battling the coronavirus,” Reeves said in his statement.

The legislative process to change the flag, which could begin at any point at leaders’ discretion, is expected to begin on Saturday in the House. Before lawmakers can change the flag, they must first pass a rules suspension resolution.

The resolution requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate (82 out of 122 House members, 35 out of 52 Senate members) to pass.

If both the House and Senate approve the suspension resolution, they can take up the actual bill that would remove or replace the state flag. Those considerations would require just a simple majority in both chambers to pass (62 of 122 House members, 27 of 52 Senate members).

The House Rules committee met Saturday morning with the expectation from many that members would take up legislation to suspend the rules. But that did not happen Saturday morning.

“I don’t have the green light,” Turner told reporters after the meeting adjourned. When asked whether his committee would take up the issue on Saturday, Turner said: “I don’t know.”

As of Saturday morning, there is still no consensus between House and Senate leadership over how, exactly, they will press forward with a bill to remove the flag. Many, including former Gov. Phil Bryant and U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, have expressed support for a flag displaying the state seal, which includes the phrase “In God We Trust.” The influential Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, appeared to back that design with its release of a poll this week.

Legislative leaders have also discussed removing the current flag this session and forming a commission to develop multiple replacement designs to be placed on a ballot for a vote.

Several Republican lawmakers who had been on the fence or against the Legislature changing the flag had “road to Damascus” moments in the days and hours leading up to Saturday’s voting.

Sen. Joel Carter, R-Gulfport, on social media said: “I’ve personally struggled with the words to say about the State Flag. The reason is because I’ve seen over the last couple of days, the internal struggles legislators face with this landmark vote. I’ve also had conversations with Mississippians on both sides of the argument.

“I was elected to be a leader, not a follower … It’s past time to retire the current state flag … Let’s find a way to make this happen and move forward together.”

Rep. Jody Steverson, R-Ripley, posted: “After serious thought and consideration, I have made the decision to vote in favor of retiring the state flag. Our State faces serious economic impact if we continue flying our current flag, a flag that doesn’t unite all the people of Mississippi but divides us.

“Several options have been discussed by the leaders of our State, but the implications of not removing the current flag could not wait until a referendum could be placed on the ballot.”

Sen. Jeremy England, R-Vancleave, posted: “Thank you for your continued prayers and if you disagree with me, I hope you can at least respect me in my decisions. It’s time we change our flag in Mississippi.”

Rep. Karl Oliver, R-Winona, in a 2017 social media post said that those who support the removal of Confederate monuments should be “lynched.” In recent weeks, he declined to comment on the flag issue.

But on Thursday, Oliver issued a statement that said: “I am choosing to attempt to unite our state and ask each of you to join me in supporting a flag that creates unity — now is the time.” Oliver’s statement said the flag issue is growing “more divisive by the day” and “History will record the position I chose.”

But other lawmakers have remained steadfast in opposition to the Legislature changing the flag without a popular vote in referendum.

“The people deserve a vote,” Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, who is helping lead opposition to the vote in the Senate said. “People matter more than politicians.”

In the House on Saturday, opponents to the Legislature changing the flag were gearing up to offer numerous amendments to any flag change bill, with the strategy that forcing vote after vote on the issue might make some lawmakers lukewarm on change peel away.

Protesters both for and against changing the flag were outside and in the Capitol on Saturday morning as lawmakers arrived.

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.

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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.

Kayleigh Skinner joined the Mississippi Today team in January 2017 as an education and legislative reporter and advanced to a senior staff member in her four years with the company. Before joining Mississippi Today, Kayleigh worked at The Hechinger Report, Chalkbeat Tennessee, and The Commercial Appeal. She has appeared on MSNBC, NPR, and BBC Newsday Radio to discuss her reporting.