• 66°

Court forces Bryant to take flag stand

By Kevin Cooper

Phil Bryant may be the closest thing to a king existing in Mississippi now that B.B. King and Elvis are both no longer among the living.

Bryant is in his second term as governor of the state and is mostly untouchable at this point. By law he cannot be re-elected so from a political standpoint, he has nothing to lose beyond perhaps legacy.

That’s why the king’s commitment over the past few years to simply dodging one of the biggest divisions in the state is so baffling.

Repeatedly — for several years — Bryant has avoided firmly taking a public side on the controversy surrounding Mississippi’s state flag.

In case you’ve been under a rock for a decade or two, the state flag’s Confederate symbolism has been a subject of great controversy.

Mississippi’s official flag is the only one in the country that contains Confederate imagery. That imagery, critics suggest, is an offensive reminder of Mississippi’s racists past.

A number of groups have said they will not travel to Mississippi in protest of the flag’s continued, controversial existence.

But the king doesn’t like controversy so he simply ignores the matter in hopes it goes away.

But it hasn’t.

Yet Bryant remains firm in his insistence that the matter should be decided by the voters, but will not offer an opinion.

Plenty of other current and former elected leaders have chosen to at least take a stand against the flag, understanding that it reflects the Mississippi of our past, not our present or future.

Many other Mississippians defiantly cling to the flag as a symbol of heritage and honor and vow it should never be changed.

Each of those groups deserves respect for at least having the backbone to stand up for its beliefs.

King Bryant deserves little respect on this matter because he flat refuses to take a position.

Even if Bryant believes that on principle the decision should be decided by voters, at least he could be man enough, leader enough to communicate his position on the matter and defend that position.

Does he like the flag or think it should go? We don’t know — at least not officially yet.

Of course, by dodging the question and not actually taking a side, Bryant effectively stands in the shadows of the flag’s supporters.

Like a king, unfortunately, not many people can force Bryant to do something he doesn’t want to do.

But this week, barring some surprise move, Bryant — or more precisely the state’s lawyers who work for him — will have to defend the state’s position on the flag for justices of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court’s request comes as it considers whether or not to debate a case regarding Mississippi’s flag brought by Mississippi attorney Carlos Moore.

He contends the existence of the flag at courthouses causes him anxiety and undue stress.

Both a U.S. District Court and a U.S. Court of Appeals have ruled against Moore, but his attorneys have brought the matter before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Although it’s uncertain if the nation’s high court will officially consider the matter, the request for a response indicates the court might.

Regardless of the outcome, perhaps through this preliminary process something good will come.

Bryant and the state will have to finally take an official, public position on the flag.

If that actually happens understanding the king’s position will be long overdue.

Kevin Cooper is the publisher of The Natchez Democrat.