When Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn called for the removal of the Confederate symbol from the state flag, it caught the eye of Hillary Clinton’s campaign as members there discussed messaging for an upcoming speech in the aftermath of the South Carolina shootings.
In an email thread released by WikiLeaks as part of this week’s dump of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, several members of Clinton’s staff are shown debating how best to address the issue of the Confederate flag, specifically whether to stick strictly to the flag issue or to broaden it to other Confederate symbols.
After being presented with a draft of remarks for a June 23, 2015, speech at Christ the King United Church of Christ just outside St. Louis, campaign consultant Jim Margolis asked, “Are we intentionally limiting our call to the confederate battle flag itself?”
Dan Schwerin, Clinton’s head speech writer, responded with references to Gunn’s remarks:
… an alternative like “symbols of the Confederacy” is much more sweeping, but we can easily upgrade to that if folks want. Argument for making this about the battle flag specifically is that it hits Mississippi, where the Speaker of the House just raised this issue as well (http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2015/06/22/petition-mississippi-confederate-flag/29113157/) and a number of other places, but doesn’t get us into debating the extra star on the Arkansas flag or every single Robert E. Lee statue across the south.
The email thread is a short but interesting look into the Clinton campaign’s thoughts on the issue. There was widespread agreement that the Confederate flag should be removed from state flags and government displays, but it is equally clear that Clinton did not want to get bogged down in a debate centered around the flag and miss the more important issues of what those symbols represent.
In some ways, it echoes what Gunn said in his statement last summer:
“We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us. As a Christian, I believe our state’s flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed. We need to begin having conversations about changing Mississippi’s flag.”
Gunn’s statement was noteworthy because he became the first high-profile Republican in the state to call for a new state flag. While several other Republican lawmakers supported Gunn, both Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves made it clear that they did not support any efforts by the Legislature to change the flag. After a bill seeking to change the state flag died in the Legislature this year, Gunn released the following statement:
“For anyone to suggest I have surrendered or backed up on my position of changing the flag is simply not true,” said Speaker of the House Philip Gunn. “I have not wavered in my viewpoint that we need a different flag to represent Mississippi. I have spoken with many House members both individually and collectively and have tried to convince them to adopt my view.
“I have explored every option from taking legislative action to change the flag to adopting two official flags, but we cannot get a consensus on how to address the issue,” he continued. “I will continue to stand by my view that changing the flag is the right thing to do. The flag is going to change. We can deal with it now or leave for future generations to address. I believe our state needs to address it now. I am disappointed that nothing took shape this year, but I will continue this effort. “