Mississippi flag supporters criticize ballot summary

October 23, 2015 in News

In this photo taken June 23, 2015, the Mississippi state flag is unfurled against the front of the Governor's Mansion in Jackson, Miss. A new proposal seeks a statewide election on removing the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi flag. But it could be years before the issue gets on the ballot, and there's no guarantee voters would accept it.(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

In this photo taken June 23, 2015, the Mississippi state flag is unfurled against the front of the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson, Miss. A new proposal seeks a statewide election on removing the Confederate battle emblem from the Mississippi flag. But it could be years before the issue gets on the ballot, and there’s no guarantee voters would accept it.(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Sponsors of three identical initiatives that seek to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Mississippi flag say they’re frustrated by ballot titles the attorney general’s staff is writing for their proposals.

For the third time, Attorney General Jim Hood’s staff has written a title that the flag supporters say is confusing. Hood told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday that his staff is not playing politics.

“I’ve got career lawyers,” Hood said. “They read the dry law and apply it the best that they can.”

A ballot title is like a headline that’s supposed to say, in 20 or fewer words, what an initiative would do. It is followed by a summary that can be a few concise sentences.

Sponsors of each keep-the-flag proposal want a title referring to 1894 — the year Mississippi adopted the flag with the Confederate emblem. The attorney general’s title changed 1894 flag to “current” flag.

Greg Stewart is director of Beauvoir, the beachside mansion in Biloxi that was the last home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. He is among those pushing initiatives to enshrine Mississippi’s flag design in the state constitution, and he said “current” might be inaccurate by the time an initiative could get on the 2018 ballot.

More than 400 people participated in an Oct. 11 rally in Jackson to support a ballot initiative that seeks to remove Confederate references from the Mississippi flag. The soonest that proposal could come up for a vote is also 2018, so the ballot that year could have competing flag proposals. Legislators could also consider changing the flag before then, although many say they think voters should decide the issue.

“If we get stuck with ‘current’ in the ballot title and there’s a different flag before 2018, the confusion caused by that can be laid squarely at the AG’s feet,” Stewart said.

Hood said his staff is not taking a position for or against any initiative and is not trying to confuse people.

“We’re just doing the best we can with 20 words,” said Hood, a Democrat seeking re-election Nov. 3.

Confederate symbols have come under debate since the June 17 massacre of nine black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in what police said was a racially motivated attack. The man charged in the slayings had been photographed holding a Confederate battle flag — a blue X with 13 white stars, over a red field.

Supporters see the battle emblem as a sign of history and heritage and critics see as a reminder of slavery and segregation.

In a 2001 statewide election, Mississippi voters decided to keep the flag with the Confederate emblem. However, that vote didn’t put the flag design into the state constitution.

Since the Charleston shootings, several Mississippi cities and counties have stopped flying the state flag. The University of Mississippi student senate adopted a resolution Tuesday asking administrators to remove the flag from campus. The faculty Senate adopted a similar resolution Thursday night.