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Emotions color flag debate

By Staff
GETTING READY Lauderdale County circuit clerk Donna Jill Johnson looks over the ballots that will be used in the April 17 flag election. Photo by Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star.
By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
March 11, 2001
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove had people sitting on the edges of their chairs last week in Waynesboro as his words painted a bright, strong picture of his vision of the state's future.
He discussed the new Nissan plant in Madison County. He predicted 30,000 new jobs in Mississippi because of the plant. Yes, the state was experiencing some layoffs with its existing industries, and things are slow now, Musgrove conceded.
But look at what is ahead, he said. Mississippi is moving forward under a new economic development strategy, Musgrove said during his speech at the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce's Annual dinner. Why, the Saints may even move to this state, he hinted.
Then, the governor brought up the flag issue.
Mississippians will go to the polls April 17 to decide whether to change the state flag. If it passes, the cross bars, seen by some as a symbol of slavery and the Ku Klux Klan, would be removed from the canton corner of the Mississippi flag. It would be replaced with two circles of stars, symbolizing the original 13 colonies of the United States and the six flags that have flown over this state.
In the center of the proposed flag is a large star, which symbolizes Mississippi today.
Musgrove explained while he understood many Mississippians saw the state flag as a symbol of their heritage, many didn't. And, the governor said, when the state is competing for new industries and jobs, the issue with the cross bars is one thing other states the state's competition in economic development uses against Mississippi.
A couple of days later, one man who listened to the speech summed it up.
Last year at Musgrove's request, a commission headed by former Gov. William Winter held hearings across the state to discuss flag issue. They received strong and sometimes emotional input from both sides.
The lines are clearly divided. While the football and basketball coaches from Mississippi's Big 3 colleges have joined political and economic development leaders in support of the change, all polls indicate that the majority of state votes are dead set against it.
And those against the change may be getting ready to back up their feelings with their vote.
Lauderdale County Circuit Clerk Donna Jill Johnson says she has seen an increase in the number of people who are coming in to make sure they are eligible to vote April 17.
A letter from attorney J. Gregory Stewart of Oxford representing the "Coalition of Save the Flag" charged that $300,000 from outside Mississippi is being "funneled" into the state to help support the side for change.
Stewart's group is also asking the state auditor to investigate allegations that "state employees on state time, and using state resources at Ole Miss, have singled out students to pressure them to endorse the proposed pattern."
Johnson said the deadline to register to vote on the flag issue is next Saturday and her office will be open that day from 8 a.m. until noon. The office will also offer extended hours this week, opening at 8 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m.
Johnson also noted that voters should use the polls where they vote in county and state
elections. If you vote in Lauderdale County, check your voter registration card and go to the poll that you would for county elections, Johnson said.
Absentee ballots are now available. If you are physically unable to go the circuit clerk's office, you can have one mailed to your home. For more information, call you county circuit clerk's office.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.

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