Legislators shed light on process that led to retiring Mississippi’s state flag
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Sunday’s historic vote to retire Mississippi’s state flag after 126 years would not have happened without a much more difficult hurdle that had to be overcome the day before: a two-thirds majority in both Mississippi chambers to suspend the rules of the the session.
State senators needed 35 yeas to pull that off and managed to wrangle 36.
“It was really close. One or two votes, we would not be here,” said Sen. Derrick Simmons, D-District 12.
Simmons said while the road to get Mississippi’s controversial flag retired ultimately fell squarely at the legislators’ feet, weeks of public stances from universities, sports programs, national organizations and most notably the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board helped set the stage for convincing arguments to win votes.
Sen. Jeremy England (R-Jackson County), in his first year as a legislator, helped do that by addressing his colleagues before the crucial vote.
“There were some very passionate speeches on both sides of this issue, and this issue’s been going on since at least 2001, and until we got this issue resolved, it was gonna keep going,” England said.
England, who said he enjoys reading about governmental changes in history, particularly in close-vote situations, did not enjoy the tension after the Senate narrowly approved the measure to suspend the rules on Saturday, with just two more votes than they needed to meet the two-thirds requirement.
One of those two came from something called a “vote pair,” Simmons said.
Sen. Tyler McCaughn voted against suspending the rules but also acknowledged that Sen. Philip Moran would have voted for it.
Moran was not present Saturday, but his vote counted nonetheless, because those senators’ votes canceled each other’s out.
Both lawmakers are Republican.
England said he doesn’t feel a referendum was the answer here.
“Our job as legislators is to come here and represent our constituents and to represent not only the people that are on the ground, but also businesses. At the end of the day, this really came down to perception, image. Symbolism played a very important role in this. It’s been a long road to get here,” England said.
Fourteen Republican senators voted against suspending the rules Saturday.
On Sunday, nearly all of Saturday’s Republican lawmakers voted against retiring the flag, too.
“They have their reasons. It may be their districts or how they feel in their hearts, but we have to look for the Mississippi of tomorrow and not be so concerned about the Mississippi of yesterday. And to the extent that they are willing to just move forward with the decision that we have made and we all can just still get along, I still can respect them as my colleagues,” Simmons said.
After Sunday’s House vote and overwhelming margin of approval there, Speaker Philip Gunn said he doesn’t think changing Mississippi’s flag is part of the same initiative he sees to erase historical figures across the nation that have controversial pasts.
He told reporters that the Mississippi flag and that Confederate battle emblem were not representative of all Mississippians, and that’s why he has been vocal about getting the current flag retired for the last five years.
Copyright 2020 WLBT. All rights reserved.