JACKSON, Miss. — Diversity of race and culture makes Mississippi strong, even though differences were a “problem” in the past, the new state agriculture commissioner said Monday at his swearing-in ceremony.

“I was reading this morning — Mississippi is in the top 20 of the most diverse states in this country,” Republican Andy Gipson told family, friends, supporters and employees of the Department of Agriculture and Commerce.

“We have more people who are different from one another, and in our past that has been a problem,” he said. “I’m praying for the day we’re going to overcome our past. And I want to help lead on that subject.”

Gipson is an attorney, farmer, Baptist pastor and former state lawmaker who lives in Braxton.

“God has designed our diversity for blessing, not for cursing,” Gipson said. “We’ve got to get to the point in this state that we realize God is giving us more opportunities because he has given us diverse people.”

He served in the state House of Representatives from January 2008 until last week, when Gov. Phil Bryant chose him to succeed another Republican, Cindy Hyde-Smith, as agriculture commissioner.

Bryant announced March 21 that he was appointing Hyde-Smith to temporarily succeed longtime Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who retired Sunday. Because Congress is on break, Hyde-Smith will be sworn in to the Senate on April 9. She and others will run in a November special election to fill the rest of the six-year Senate term, which ends in January 2021.

As a state House member, Gipson said the Legislature should not remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag. Supporters say the emblem is a reminder of slavery and segregation, while supporters say it represents history and heritage. The emblem has been on the flag since 1894, and voters chose to keep it in a 2001 election.

Asked Monday about his position on the flag in relation to promoting the state’s diversity, Gipson said: “The people of the state voted on it, and I said the people of the state ought to be the ones to vote on changing it.”

Gipson is the state’s eighth commissioner of agriculture and commerce, and he will serve the rest of the four-year term started by Hyde-Smith.

Bryant will set a special election in parts of Simpson and Rankin counties to fill Gipson’s former House seat, and the winner will serve until January 2020.

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