Economic council endorses new flag

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON - The Mississippi Economic Council's Board of Directors has "strongly endorsed'' the adoption of a new state flag as a "strategic business decision.''

The MEC through a fax notified its about 3,000 members Friday that "in a unanimous vote of those present'' the 80-member board voted in favor of a new flag. The group said it supported changing the flag through a statewide vote.

"This is a business decision,'' the MEC fax said. "Our task groups, executive committee and board, over a period of months, reviewed both scientific and empirical research, focusing on the business and economic development aspects and impact of this issue. The voice of business must clearly resonate the need to create the most positive business climate possible.''

The MEC, generally considered the state's chamber of commerce, has through the years been vocal on various aspects of state government from improving public education to cutting government programs.

Former Gov. William Winter, who chaired a commission appointed by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to study the future of the controversial flag, praised the decision of MEC.

"I think it is a very significant statement the business community made,'' Winter said.

Winter's committee adopted an alternative flag in December and recommended that the new proposal and the current flag be placed on the ballot for the voters to decide. The Legislature is expected to vote next week to hold that special election perhaps as early as April.

There is a growing consensus in the Legislature, though, to change the alternative design proposed by the commission. Instead of the new flag having a blue, white, blue stripes and a red canton corner as proposed by the commission, it is more likely the Legislature will maintain the colors of the current flag.

That would be blue , white, red, stripes. But the controversial Confederate battle flag that is in the canton corner of the current flag would be replaced as the commission recommended with 20 white stars in a circular pattern on a blue background. The stars would represent the 13 original states and the six governments that had domain over Mississippi. The 20th larger star in the center of the circle would represent Mississippi, which also was the 20th state admitted to the Union.

Various people have complained that the current flag with the Confederate battle emblem in its design is a symbol of slavery and of hatred. Others have said the flag represents the state's history and heritage.

During five public hearings the commission held on the flag in the fall, the banner elicited strong emotions.

The MEC Board of Directors' decision to endorse changing the flag did not deal with anything but the business aspect of the decision, according to the fax released to its members Friday.

Part of the fax read, "Those outside our borders still struggle with conflicting images of our state ... many of them not so positive. A positive resolution of this issue can enhance the image of our state to the outside world.''

The fax said Mississippi has momentum "particularly from an economic development perspective. Demonstrated sound leadership from the private sector helps keep this momentum going.''

Winter said the business aspect of the flag issue "is only one factor, but it is a very important factor and one I think people understand. We understand that we must be competitive with every other state. In order to do that, we must do everything we can.''

Any symbol that is seen as "divisive'' sends the wrong message to the rest of the nation and to the rest of the world and limits Mississippi's opportunities to expand its economic base, Winter said.

The MEC agreed.

The MEC consists of a significant number of business leaders of the state.

The question now is what others will take a public stance on the flag issue. Thus far no state elected official has.

Gov. Musgrove and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, both Democrats, have said they support a statewide referendum, but have not said how they would vote.

But on Friday, Musgrove said after the Legislature sets the statewide vote "I think you will see a number of us'' take a position on whether they support a new flag or the old design.

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