What do you see when you look at this picture? Some might say Mike Tyson or the former heavyweight champion of the world, but the honest answer is that damn tattoo. It’s an indelible mark that literally governs how you see him. If your child came and asked if they should get a tattoo on their face, you’d (hopefully) say no. If they came home with a tattoo on their face, you’d set a land-speed record for googling tattoo removal.
Mississippi, we have a tattoo on our face. Our flag literally governs how outsiders see and interact with us and indeed how we interact with ourselves. We also have the power to remove it.
In the almost 11 years of Y’allPolitics, it’s hard to recall such a groundswell of bipartisan support on a particular item, particularly one so historically controversial. Speaker Philip Gunn was certainly the prime mover that set the table of support for a new flag followed most notably by Senator Roger Wicker. There have certainly been others and there have also been some predictable resistance.
Ultimately, I think that Mississippians will fall into one of two categories on the flag. The first group will be pro-change/agnostic. There will be a lot of folks that seem to want the change and there will be folks that will probably won’t do much to help make the change, but probably won’t get in the way. The Governor and the Lt. Governor may well fall into the latter part of this category. The other category of folks that are going to be vehemently anti-change. At this point, it looks like this category will be composed of Tea Partiers, flaggers and Confederate supporters.
Not surprisingly, the first person to come out against the flag change was none other than Chris McDaniel. Bless his heart, can you imagine if the statement he put out about the flag using words like “historical cleansing” came as a US Senator? Washington DC would have had a meltdown. It would have been a facepalm for the ages. Not that he’s against black folks . . . he was just willing to fight all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote as Republicans. Part of his (and others’) rationale against changing the flag is that “we already voted on it”. But that did not stop his group for advocating against term limits even though Mississippians 20 years ago roundly shot term limits down at the ballot box (twice). I’m just waiting for the first UCF fundraising email on the flag issue.
Sid Salter did a really good job of recounting the circumstances around the flag vote 14 years ago. But the main problem with that vote was that it was an “elephants vs. donkeys” issue. On one side, you had Ronnie Musgrove and William Winter, but it was very much a political fight held on political lines. It had all of the hallmarks of a “cram down”. The design of the other flag was horrible and the fight was made as a political one. This time, it appears it could be different. If the effort to change the flag is to be successful, it must not be an elephants vs. donkeys fight.
While I think most of the political world tries to figure out which side it’s on, there are some immediate practical issues that folks who want to change the flag need to start to consider. First, we are six months away from a legislative session. There’s a lot of energy right now, but not much of a vehicle to channel it into. That’s a real problem. The one man who can expedite that schedule is Phil Bryant via a special session call. Right this minute, that looks fairly unlikely.
From my personal vantage point, having another statewide flag referendum without at least the legislature voting to make the decision to abandon the current flag would be a disaster. It would be a political bomb with a 12-18 month fuse and you would have homegrown and imported wackos on both sides that would make it their mission in life to demagogue the issue to death. At the very least, voting to change the flag is an issue that squarely needs to be decided in the Mississippi legislature. I know that’s a tough ask. Gunn looks like the champion of that effort and if bipartisan support holds, it can get to the Governor’s desk. And there’s precedent for it. Sen. Michael Watson led the effort last session to change the state seal. Changing the state flag or at least voting to authorize a new one shouldn’t be that much bigger of a deal. Several political leaders have suggested we return to the Magnolia Flag or Bonnie Blue Flag, but the state seal change was trumpeted by so many, perhaps they could just drop the new state seal on a blue background and presto: a new flag.
There are a few things to keep in mind that can derail this effort quickly.
1. Pro-flag change people conflating this with other issues or trying to overplay their hand. This is a big issue. Democrats in particular have been pretty beaten up on the statewide political front. Here’s an issue that would be good for them, but if they over politicize it or try to parlay it into something else, they’re going to lose. Remember, in Mississippi elephants are winning. Turning this into elephants vs. donkeys is a losing strategy. Someone might need to put a gag order on Rickey Cole and steal David Dallas’ computer and hijack Bill Minor’s typewriter until this is all over. Democrats, work with Republicans and win this one. Don’t overreach!
2. Pro-change flag forces should keep outside influence to a minimum. Flaggers and Tea Party Groups will certainly swoop in if there’s a real effort at hand to try and raise money and blood pressures. But folks who want a new flag just need to focus on organizing and whipping legislative support.
3. Not keeping everyone’s eye on the ball. There will be all sorts of hyperbole. You’ll hear everything from wanting to ban the movie “Gone with the Wind” to renaming counties to forbidding people from putting confederate flag stickers on their pickups. This is about none of that. This is ONLY about making the official flag of the taxpayers of the state not have the Confederate emblem on it. Period.
I’ve been pretty vocal that I think that Republicans have on balance not done a good job of making black Mississippians feel included as voters in support of our candidates and as candidates themselves. A bipartisan effort to do something that’s meaningful that has real Republican participation (which this flag effort looks like it does) could literally change the math. That’s certainly a secondary consideration, but one that (for Republicans) should not be forgotten.
And Democrats, it’s time to be politically smart. For instance, today, the head of the MS Black Caucus publicly advocated for a special session. That was a poor tactical move because that ask of Governor Bryant, whose ultimate support is important, should really be bipartisan and well-planned . . . not knee-jerk. That’s the sort of bad political checkers that needs to be avoided in this effort. On their own, Democrats cannot win this issue. They can only demagogue it. They need real Republican votes and support to get this done.
Good things can come out of horrible tragedy. It has certainly happened in our history before. The murders of Emmitt Till and Medgar Evers are cases in point. These horrible tragedies refocused our thinking and help make needed change possible.
This is time to do something good (literally for goodness sake). It should be on the Mississippi Legislature to make this happen.