Is the Confederate flag still an issue in Mississippi elections? Chris McDaniel campaign tries to revive it

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Mississippi’s former flag with a Confederate emblem in its canton was an issue — sometimes a major one — in state politics and elections for decades before it was officially changed via a vote of the Republican-led Legislature and signature of Republican Gov. Tate Reeves in 2020.

The Jim Crow era-adopted banner appears to have faded as a major issue as the new magnolia-themed banner flies over the state.

But in his effort to energize the right wing of the state GOP to oust incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, state Sen. Chris McDaniel appears to be trying to revive the issue.

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But he’s got to be careful, a little more surreptitious, in his approach as he wants to keep favor with his former political foe turned majordomo, Gov. Reeves. Any slings and arrows Hosemann would face on the flag change would apply to Reeves as well — along with many fellow Republican lawmakers down ticket. They had publicly called for voters, not lawmakers, to decide the issue before doing an about-face and facilitating the legislative change.

Thus, McDaniel appears for now to be letting a surrogate — a fellow state senator — publicly broach the issue.

Sen. Kathy Chism, a Republican from New Albany, appeared outside her district at a political rally “on behalf of … Chris McDaniel” in Tishomingo County in early June. As reported by the Mississippi Free Press, Chism endorsed not only McDaniel, but the old flag, saying “a lot of our people fought and died under that flag.” It’s unclear what fighting, dying or people she’s referring to, as the old flag was adopted in 1894, long after the end of the Civil War. In the past, Chism has also incorrectly claimed the old flag was designed by a Black Confederate soldier in her defense of the state’s Lost Cause banner, which was in fact designed by a white supremacist legislator.

Both Hosemann and Reeves caught some flak after the Legislature initiated the flag change, even though neither took an early leadership role in the effort. Both said repeatedly that voters, not lawmakers, should decide the issue. Old flag supporters said the two Republicans reneged on this policy — Hosemann helping the House-led final legislative push through the Senate and Reeves signing the measure into law.

McDaniel fought the flag change in the Legislature, and after it was changed he helped lead an effort to force a referendum that would have allowed voters to re-adopt the old flag or choose a new one. This “Let Mississippi Vote” effort was led by one of McDaniel’s top political and campaign lieutenants, preacher and political consultant Dan Carr of Gulfport.

But the state Supreme Court in 2021 nullified the state’s ballot initiative process. Two efforts to revive it in the Legislature have failed with many, including McDaniel, blaming Hosemann and one of his top lieutenants for failure to adopt a new process.

McDaniel declined comment on the flag as a campaign issue, or whether he approved of Chism’s stance on his behalf. Hosemann likewise declined comment.

The flag issue has long divided Mississippians, and in recent years the state GOP as well. Any effort by McDaniel to revive it would appear to be aimed at energizing the far right of the party, then hoping for relatively low Republican primary turnout from moderates, independents or party crossover voters.

It’s a divisive strategy, using a divisive issue.

McDaniel in comments on social media in 2017 deemed Mississippi unity on a flag as a lost cause.

He wrote: “The idea that Mississippi ‘needs a flag we can all be proud of’ is ludicrous — it’s an impossible task. Seriously, half the liberals in our republic consider the American flag to be oppressive. Stop trying to pacify them; they will NEVER be satisfied.”

By Geoff Pender / Mississippi Today