Five days after the Charleston attack, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called for removal of the Confederate emblem that has been on the state flag since 1894. Republican Gunn, a leader in his local Baptist church, cited his faith and said: “I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed.”
In response, people who support the banner have been distributing yard signs with the slogan: “Keep the Flag. Change the Speaker.” The effort is led former Yazoo City Mayor Jeppie Barbour, a brother of Republican former Gov. Haley Barbour.
The signs are nearly identical to ones that dotted roadsides during the 2003 gubernatorial race, when Haley Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, unseated one-term Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Back then, the slogan was: “Keep the Flag. Change the Governor.”
In 2003, there was no “paid for by” disclaimer on the signs, and a Haley Barbour spokesman said his campaign hadn’t funded the effort. The current signs also lack the payment disclosure.
Musgrove was governor when the state Supreme Court ruled in May 2000 that the state flag had no legal status because when Mississippi laws were updated in 1906, sections covering the banner were not carried forward. Musgrove appointed a commission that held contentious public hearings about the flag in the fall of 2000. Then, in a statewide election in the spring of 2001, voters decided by a nearly 2-to-1 margin to keep the Confederate emblem on the flag.
Current Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, have said if the flag design is reconsidered, it should be done by voters rather than by legislators.