Ex-Governors Weigh in on Miss. Flag

With less than a week before Mississippi voters decide whether to remove the Confederate symbol from their state flag, supporters of the change have a huge fund-raising advantage, and both sides are pulling out the big guns.

Two former Mississippi governors told a convention Thursday that adopting a new state flag design won't bring new jobs or lead to racial reconciliation.

``We've got to stop somewhere, I mean we can't be bullied around by 10 percent of the population who take offense when there is no offense to be taken,'' said Democrat Bill Waller, governor from 1972 to 1976. He was joined by former Republican Gov. Kirk Fordice, 1992-2000.

Another former governor, Democrat William Winter, 1980-1984, urged the same group to support the new flag, saying replacing the old one would help Mississippi shed negative stereotypes by removing a symbol used by the Ku Klux Klan.

``It's something wrong with a state flag when a lot of our citizens are ashamed to fly it,'' Winter said.

Reports filed with the secretary of state this week show four groups that support a new flag have raised a combined $705,501, while two groups supporting the old flag have raised $7,646. The filing deadline was Tuesday, but groups have a nine-day grace period.

George Shelton, director of Mississippi Legacy Fund, which raised the bulk of the money for a new flag, wouldn't disclose whether the group will television ads or stick with its strategy of direct mail and phone calls.

``We're looking forward to a big finish,'' he said.

The group lists among its supporters former Netscape CEO James Barksdale and actor Morgan Freeman, who grew up in Mississippi and has a home there. The new flag would have 20 white stars replacing the Rebel emblem.

Lawyer Greg Stewart, a spokesman for advocates of keeping the old flag Mississippi has used since 1894, laughed when he was told how much the new flag proponents had raised.

``I don't think it's going to be enough to overcome the apparent will of the people,'' Stewart said.

Tuesday's vote was ordered after the state Supreme Court determined the 1894 flag had no official standing because the design wasn't carried forward when state laws were updated in 1906.

Mississippi is the latest state to deal with the question of keeping the Confederate emblem.

South Carolina removed the Confederate battle flag from its Capitol dome last year after a series of protests and boycotts. Georgia, the only other state with the Confederate battle emblem on its flag, raised a new state flag in January that reduces the once-dominant emblem to a row of five tiny flags from Georgia's past.