By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – The Republican House leadership, relying on overwhelming support of Democrats, was able to narrowly defeat a proposal designed to force the eight public universities to fly the state flag, which has the controversial Confederate battle emblem as part of its design.
The issue of the flag surfaced Monday in the House as both chambers finished the process of passing the more than 100 bills that fund state government, the universities and local school districts. The bills eventually will be put in conference where House and Senate leaders will hammer out a compromise that will be voted on by the two chambers later this month.
Rep. William Shirley, R-Quitman, tried to amend the budget bills that fund the Institutions of Higher Learning to force the public universities to fly the Mississippi flag to receive state funding. None of the eight public universities currently fly the state flag.
“IHL will display whatever the flag is in the state, a pink, polka-dotted elephant, I don’t care,” he said of his amendment. “Whatever the flag is in the state, they will fly.”
Shirley offered the amendment twice Monday. It was defeated once on a voice vote when Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, ruled enough members did not stand to require a recorded vote. On the second amendment, 58 members voted against forcing the schools to fly the flag and 56 voted for the Shirley amendment.
The outcome of the vote is precarious at best. There is a likelihood that Shirley could force another vote on the flag amendment before the end of the week.
And there is a bond bill pending dealing with the universities where the speaker must rule on whether Shirley’s flag amendment is proper.
Gunn is the highest ranking Republican state official to advocate for changing the flag.
On this issue, he has been relying primarily on members of the Democratic caucus to try to defeat the Shirley amendments.
Fourteen Republicans opposed the amendment that would have forced the universities to fly the flag. One Democrat, Nick Bain of Corinth, supported Shirley’s amendment.