Time for lawmakers to stop pandering, start leading

Mississippi’s public schools are perpetually underfunded. Our state’s bridges and roads are failing. Sales tax revenue is plummeting. Young people are leaving this state at an alarming rate.

And how does the Mississippi House of Representatives spend their time at the capitol? By holding ridiculous votes on ridiculous topics that have no chance whatsoever of ever seeing the light of day.

On Wednesday, the state House voted 57-56 to withhold proposed tax exemptions to public universities that refuse to fly the state flag.

Currently, that includes all eight of the state’s public universities including the University of Southern Mississippi, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

The good news is that members of the Republican leadership in the state senate have already said the bill is unlikely to resurface with that language attached to it.

The bad news is that it comes after the fact the entire country has had a chance to laugh at us – again.

State Rep. Brad Touchstone, a Republican attorney who attended Millsaps College in Jackson, voted to include the language.

State Rep. Toby Barker, a Republican who attended Southern Miss, did not.

Rep. Touchstone defended his vote by arguing that it doesn’t matter what’s on the flag. State-funded schools, he said, should simply fly it.

We’re disappointed in Touchstone’s decision, but don’t blame him for towing the line of his constituency. In the 2001 flag referendum, Lamar County voters voted 4:1 to keep the existing flag intact. Sixteen years later, we’d like to think that vote would be a little closer, but perhaps not.

Unfortunately, Touchstone – and his supporters – are simply on the wrong side of history on this issue.

Not since the mid 1940’s has there been a government-mandated symbol with more controversy attached to it than the Confederate battle flag.

Mississippi is the last state in the union with a flag that includes the controversial image and supporters have said they see it “as a representative of history and heritage.”

Critics see it “as a reminder of slavery and segregation.”

We don’t think it represents the spirit of this state in 2017 and the mere fact lawmakers are wasting their time by holding such a frivolous vote while so many other pressing issues go ignored speaks volumes about the state of things in the Magnolia state.

Gov. Phil Bryant has long said a flag change should come from the people, not lawmakers.

We disagree.

It’s time our legislators stop pandering and start leading.

– David Gustafson