The Mississippi state senator who unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) last fall lashed out today at calls to remove the Confederate flag from his state’s flag.
Those calls have gained momentum from the speaker of the Mississippi state house, Republican Philip Gunn.
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” Gunn said in a statement Monday. “As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”
A 2001 ballot measure to change the Mississippi state flag — a movement largely propelled by business leaders who felt the Confederate image was hurting investment in the state — fell flat, with 64 percent voting to keep the old banner.
Cochran said today it’s “up to the legislature” in Mississippi if they want to redesign the flag. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said, “I support the will of the people of Mississippi, as well as the rights of other states to make their own determination on this issue. Mississippians voted in 2001 to retain the current state flag. If it is time to make a change, then it should be up to the Mississippi legislature and the people of the state to decide.”
In a statement this afternoon, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who forced Cochran to a primary runoff last year but lost after Cochran rallied Democratic voters to his side, argued that “the price we pay to live in a free society is to occasionally be offended.”
“A cultural or historical cleansing of all things potentially offensive will do nothing to alleviate the problems caused by racism. To pretend otherwise is a disservice to serious discourse on the subject,” McDaniel said. “We must examine our hearts and not resort to placing emotional blame for problems we face on symbols such as a flag.”
The state senator, who launched the United Conservatives Fund PAC in January, called it “poor taste to use the tragic South Carolina massacre to promote a political agenda.”
“Slavery is our nation’s original sin, and government sanctioned discrimination is evil…. However, at the end of the day, political correctness is about power; consequently, its practitioners will never be appeased. They won’t stop until dissent is crushed and tolerance of opposing viewpoints is no longer accepted,” McDaniel said. “I will not be a part of such an agenda.”
“The people of Mississippi have already decided this issue, by referendum. I will respect their wishes.”
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has not responded to GOP leader Gunn’s call to change the state flag.
The Mississippi NAACP released a statement stressing that “while none of us can know what the flag meant to Dylann Roof, the alleged murderer in Charleston, the images of him with the Confederate flag demonstrate why Mississippi needs to make sure symbols of our state’s ugly history are never promoted or celebrated.”
“This is why the NAACP supports the removal of the confederate bars from the Mississippi State Flag and applauds House Speaker Gunn’s recent statement that we need to begin this conversation. Speaker Gunn has shown tremendous courage and we hope our state’s other political leaders will follow him. If they do, history will applaud their courage.”
Former Gov. Haley Barbour told MSNBC this morning he’s “not offended by our flag or the Confederate flag for that matter.”
“But some people are. And the ones who have to deal in Congress, the ones that have to deal in the legislature, the ones that have to deal in the county governments, they’re the ones who ought to take the leadership, not the has-beens,” Barbour said.
His nephew, GOP strategist Henry Barbour, tweeted, “How can we keep things the same? The flag didn’t cause Charleston, but it represents hatred to many, especially our black brothers/sisters.”