State Sen. Kathy Chism, R-New Albany, said she voted against a bill to change the Mississippi flag because she believes the people should have been allowed to vote on the issue.
“I think that the people should have the vote,” Chism said. “The flag itself is really not the issue here. The issue is that the people have been deprived of their right to vote.”
Chism co-authored an amendment that would have let people vote on the flag, but the amendment failed. Under the amendment, a commission would have recommended three new designs for the Mississippi flag without the Confederate battle emblem but including the words “In God We Trust.”
Once the three new flag designs were developed there would have been a statewide special election to decide whether to keep the current state flag, which does contain the Confederate battle emblem, or to pick one of the three new designs.
People should be able to decide whether they want to keep the current flag, she said.
“The right to vote on this has been taken away from the people, and it’s not fair,” Chism said.
Asked why she thinks people deserve a right to vote on the flag, she said, “Why do people deserve the right to vote on the governor or anything else? It’s our history, and it’s like everybody’s trying to get rid of our history. The history is there. If we don’t know where we came from, all of us, how in the world do we know which direction to go in?”
Chism added, “You can’t just erase history. It’s there whether we like it or not.”
She said she has Irish roots on her dad’s side. When the Irish came to the United States, they were “stripped of everything,” she said.
“But you don’t hear us complaining about it,” Chism said. “You don’t see us trying to erase that history.”
And Chism said she has lineage to the Cherokee Indians on her mother’s side.
“You know all about the Trail of Tears,” Chism said. “I don’t want to erase that history.”
Chism said she wants her grandchildren to know “where we came from, what our history is even though it was not good.”
Chism urged everyone to get on their knees and pray for the nation “because we need prayers.”
Under the bill that passed, the current state flag was retired, and a nine-member commission will be formed to develop a new flag design. The new flag design cannot contain the Confederate emblem and must have the words “In God We Trust.” There will be an election Nov. 3 to decide whether the new flag design is approved by the voters.
State Rep. Sam Creekmore, R-New Albany, voted in favor of the bill to remove the current state flag. Creekmore voted against changing the state flag in 2001 but said his personal feelings changed over 19 years.
He knew there was momentum to change the flag, and he felt that it would eventually happen, he said. Support for the issue has grown since 2001, he added.
He started getting emails and texts about the issue, and there was two-to-one support to change the flag, he said. He knew it would disappoint some to remove the flag, but the overall numbers were in favor of changing it, he said.
Furthermore, he personally believed changing the flag was the right thing to do. He believes having a Confederate emblem on the state flag is a “symbol of oppression.”
“That’s not good,” he said. “It does bother me now.”
He noted that the state has a high minority population.
Creekmore said the state flag is also a big issue for Mississippi from a financial standpoint. He said he knows of two instances where businesses did not even consider Mississippi because of the state flag. He also received a call from a major local industry in support of changing the flag.
Union County, which has lost two major employers in recent months, needs to remove any obstacle it can to recruit more businesses, Creekmore noted.
Asked why he thought it was best for the Legislature to change the flag rather than putting it up to a vote of the people, Creekmore said it has always been the purview of the state Legislature to handle the state flag. He said he and the other legislators are elected to make decisions such as these.
State Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn, said he thinks his split vote on the state flag issue took all of his constituency into consideration.
Turner, who represents part of Union County, voted against a resolution that allowed the flag change bill to be introduced. But the resolution to introduce the bill passed with a super-majority vote.
Once the actual bill to change the flag was put up to a vote, Turner voted in favor of changing the flag.
Turner, who has been in the Legislature for 17 years, said he has heard from constituents over the years that they should be allowed to vote on the state flag. He said he was “often reminded” that the people voted to keep the flag in 2001.
He said he was “encouraged” by constituents to not take their vote away from them.
“They felt like that belonged to them,” Turner said.
Voters felt like it was their “privilege” and not the Legislature’s to decide whether to change the flag, said Turner.
That is why he voted against the resolution that allowed the state flag bill to be introduced.
“That was the only avenue we had to maintain the grip of the public on changing the flag,” Turner said.
He said he was acting on behalf of his constituency.
When the actual bill to change the flag came up, he voted in favor of changing the flag. At that point, it was time to “unite behind what we had,” Turner said. That was the right thing for a “statesman” to do, he said, adding, “now it’s time to unite.”
He thinks a new flag, which cannot contain the Confederate battle emblem, can help unite the state.
“It’s going to do away with one divisive issue that we have at the point,” he said.
He said he likes the fact that the new state flag must say, “In God We Trust” and that the new design must be approved by the voters.
“I think my vote speaks for itself, and I think it’s a logical vote,” Turner said. “I think it’s one that took all my constituency into consideration. The two votes together considered all my constituency.”
State Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, who voted in favor of the bill to change the state flag, could not be reached for comment.