LITTLE ROCK — An Arkansas House panel on Wednesday tabled a bill removing the Confederate designation from a star on the state's flag, creating a new obstacle for the proposal days after the Republican governor endorsed the measure.
Also on Wednesday, the Quapaw Nation, which is behind the construction of the soon-to-be-built casino in Pine Bluff, issued a statement on the issue saying that they “greatly appreciate Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s support for state Rep. Charles Blake’s proposed bill to change the meaning of a small part of the Arkansas flag so that it would honor the state’s historic Native American tribes — the Osage, Caddo and Quapaw. Currently, the star above the word ‘Arkansas; honors the Confederacy, under state law enacted in 1924.”
The statement continued, “The name Arkansas derives from the word for “Quapaw” in our own native language — O-Gah-Pah — which translates to “the downstream people.” We welcomed the first European “white” men, the French and Spanish, when they came to our homeland at Arkansas Post in the 1700s, well before statehood. We are a people of diversity and inclusion.
“So our friend Gov. Hutchinson’s position supporting the proposed change in the symbolism on the flag, is strongly felt, and enthusiastically welcomed.”
Back in Little Rock, the move by the majority-Republican House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee means the flag bill must clear an additional vote before it can be taken up by the panel. The committee rejected the proposal last week.
As noted by the Quapaw news release, Hutchinson earlier this week backed the proposal. It wouldn't change the state flag design but would remove language that a blue star above Arkansas' name on the state flag commemorates the Confederate States of America. Instead, the star would recognize the Native American tribes that inhabited the state, including the Quapaw, Osage and Caddo.
Republican Rep. Richard Womack, who called for tabling the bill, said afterward the panel should hold off on considering the bill until it's clear there are enough votes to pass the measure. The panel rejected the bill 8-5 last week.
"The reality is, I don't know that there are any votes that have changed," said Womack, who opposes the bill. "I just think it's unfair to the people to not know when these bills are coming up, especially when they can be emotionally charged like that."
Arkansas has four blue stars on its state flag, and the one commemorating the Confederacy was added in 1923. The other three blue stars represent the three countries that have had dominion over what is now the state of Arkansas: France, Spain and the United States. Hutchinson on Monday said he'd support the bill if it came back up, calling it the "right thing to do."
Democratic Rep. Charles Blake, the flag bill's sponsor, said disappointed by the bill being tabled, but said he was looking at options including filing a separate bill or having another legislator introduce identical legislation. Blake also said he planned to speak the governor in the next few days about the bill.
"Them not wanting to hear the bill doesn't mean it's going away," Blake said.