JACKSON, Miss. – One proposal to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag is about to die, but a flag supporter said Wednesday that others are being filed.
Greg Stewart is director of Beauvoir, the beachside mansion in Biloxi that was the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Stewart is among those pushing a ballot initiative to enshrine Mississippi's flag design in the state constitution.
Stewart told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the first proposed initiative will die because sponsors don't like the way Attorney General Jim Hood rewrote the summary that voters would see if the measure gets on the ballot.
In a ruling Tuesday, Hinds County Circuit Judge William Gowan said he won't second-guess the attorney general's power to write a summary for any citizen-sponsored initiative.
Every initiative must have a title, or short description of a proposed constitutional amendment, before sponsors can circulate petitions to try to get it on the statewide ballot.
Flag amendment sponsors wanted the so-called Initiative 54 title to refer to the flag that's now in use as "the 1894 flag." Instead, it refers to the "current" flag.
Stewart said he worries legislators might remove the Confederate emblem from the state flag before an initiative comes up for a vote and the term "current" flag would no longer be accurate. The earliest the question could be put to voters would be 2018.
A special assistant attorney general, Paul Barnes, wrote in court arguments that using "current" rather than "1894," was "absolutely truthful, impartial and not likely to confuse the voters."
Barnes also wrote that the Initiative 54 sponsor — Gulfport resident Kitsaa Jon Stevens, who also works at Beavoir — was asking a judge "to speculate about what the Legislature might do in the future, but which is unlikely to ever come to pass."
Confederate symbols have come under increased public scrutiny since the June 17 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The man charged in the slayings had been photographed holding a Confederate battle emblem, which supporters see as a sign of history and heritage and critics see as a reminder of slavery and segregation.
Days after the slayings, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn became the first high-profile Republican elected official to say Mississippi should remove the Confederate battle emblem from its flag. Several cities and some counties have stopped displaying the state flag on public property, saying the symbol is divisive. However, there's no guarantee that legislators will deal with the sensitive issue once they start their session in January.
Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, have said voters should have the final say in a flag design. During a 2001 statewide election, voters chose by a nearly 2-to-1 margin to keep the Confederate emblem on the state banner. That vote put the flag design into state law, but not into the constitution.
Stewart said flag supporters have filed two new initiatives that are identical to their original Initiative 54 proposal. Those will go to the attorney general for a ballot title, and Stewart said he wants Hood to accept the sponsors' use of "the 1894 flag."
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .