Senator: Bill to change state flag would have died under then-Lt. Gov. Reeves

Lawmakers credit House Speaker Gunn, Lt. Gov. Hosemann for securing historic vote

Leadership's role in changing the flag

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While legislators wait for Gov. Tate Reeves to fulfill his promise and sign the bill which will retire Mississippi’s state flag, that same man would have silenced the bill in his former role as lieutenant governor, Senate Minority Leader Derrick Simmons said.

Simmons, a Democrat representing District 12, said that once House Speaker Philip Gunn took a stance on replacing the flag five years ago, the actual process of introducing a bill was put on hold because of the Senate leadership in place at that time.

“We knew then-Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was going to kill the bill,” Simmons said. “It goes to show you what a new day it is in the Mississippi Legislature, because now that we have a new leader on the Senate side, Speaker Gunn was able to do what he wanted to do all along: sponsor a bill, get it out of the House, send it to the Senate and allow Mississippi to be proud of that decision.”

That decision also proved challenging because of Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature.

Gunn and Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann knew they would need to convince enough Republicans to get it passed.

A multitude of factors also contributed to that, Simmons said, including pressure from Mississippi’s business community and faith-based organizations.

The tipping point was the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, Simmons said.

The state’s largest Christian denomination -- with more than half a million members -- announced Tuesday that the Mississippi state flag with its Confederate battle emblem is a “symbol of something we do not need to be a part of” and called it a moral issue that does not match up with God’s teachings.

“When you have not only African-American religious and faith-based leaders speaking on the issue, but when you have Caucasian or white faith-based and religious leaders speaking on the issue, and they come together in one voice, I think that that’s important for a state like Mississippi,” Simmons said.

The potential economic impact from keeping the current flag also weighed on lawmakers, Simmons added.

In recent days, the Southeastern Conference and NCAA had come out against the flag, with both barring postseason and championship events in Mississippi until the state’s flag is changed.

On Sunday, representatives in the House passed the bill to retire the flag with a far greater margin than the previous day, when lawmakers had to approve suspending the rules of the session.

Immediately following Sunday’s House vote -- 91 for and 23 against -- Gunn addressed reporters, saying the historic move was a long time coming.

“Today, we and the rest of the nation, can look on the state with new eyes, with pride and hope,” Gunn said. “We saw sons weep with fathers because they never thought they’d live to celebrate this day together.”

Gunn even sponsored the bill that was introduced Sunday, and acknowledged that recent protests and unrest in the country showed his colleagues just how hurtful the Confederate symbol has been to many in Mississippi.

“The current flag is beginning to tarnish our image. We’re beginning to see people around the country and around the world have a negative view of our state because of it. And I think that was a wake-up call for some people,” Gunn said.

Simmons said he sees the bipartisanship displayed this weekend as an extension of the marches that led the change in the first place, with dozens of white lawmakers voting alongside black legislators, doing so across party lines.

“All of those were signs of marching,” Simmons added. “And so we all marched for three days in Mississippi, or the last two weeks, really, and we were able to effect change.”

Copyright 2020 WLBT. All rights reserved.