Utah Senate proposes task force to redesign state flag

The Utah state flag blows in the wind in downtown Provo next to the American flag and Utah County flag. A new senate bill is proposing a taskforce to redesign the state flag. (Cassidy Wixom)

Utah State Sen. Daniel McCay wants to create a State Flag Task Force to undertake a redesign of the state flag.

McCay said the task force will “see if we can modernize our existing flag” to be more distinctive and comply with flag design standards from the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA).

“I feel optimistic that people recognize there is an opportunity for a rebranding or a recapturing of the essence of Utah,” McCay said.

Ted Kaye, compiler of the “‘Good’ Flag, ‘Bad’ Flag guidebook found on NAVA’s website, said from a design standpoint, Utah’s state flag fails on all five design principles: keep it simple, have meaningful symbolism, use 2-3 basic colors, no lettering or seals, and be distinctive or related.

According to Kaye, who helped design Salt Lake City’s new flag in 2020, the Utah flag is too complicated, has too many symbols leading to a “diluted” meaning and has diluted colors. The flag also is composed of mainly the Utah seal making it indistinguishable against other flags because almost half of the U.S. states have seals on blue backgrounds for their flags.

Kaye said the Utah flag scored an average of 3.47 out of 10 in a survey in 2001 where NAVA members and the public ranked U.S. state, territory and Canadian province flags. Utah ranked 15th from the bottom along with many state flags that consist of seals on blue backgrounds.

McCay said choosing a new flag that is distinctive like neighboring states’ flags such as New Mexico, Arizona or Colorado, will “elevate our presence and give us a way to tie our Utah values to our banner and have that banner be representative to the state of Utah.”

Rep. Steve Handy said in 2018 constituents started reaching out to him about redesigning the flag. He originally drafted a bill that passed through the House but never made it through the Senate.

After a few more attempts on getting a flag redesign bill passed, Handy and McCay decided this year they would start it in the Senate. The new bill, SB48, passed a Senate committee vote of 3-2 on Jan. 22.

The bill passed through a Senate floor vote on Feb. 1 with 24 senators supporting and only five voting against. It is now on the Senate 3rd reading calendar.

Handy said Utah needs a flag that better represents the growing diversity of the state. “It ought to be a flag for all the people,” Handy said.

Both Handy and McCay said they value the public’s input on redesigning the flag.

To ensure the public feels like they have a voice in the matter, McCay said the task force will work with the public throughout the flag design process.

“I think it’s important for the state of Utah not to feel like there is a predetermined outcome in the flag process,” McCay said.

Handy said he hopes people of all ages in the state will participate in submitting designs, including school children.

“My idea was the legislature shouldn’t decide,” Handy said. Instead, the task force will eventually have the public decide on a new design, most likely through a vote on the ballot.

Talk of redesigning the Utah state flag is not new. In 2002, the Salt Lake Tribune worked with NAVA to hold a Utah Flag Design Contest. A report from NAVA said the Tribune received over 1,000 entries, with two-thirds coming from schoolchildren. The contest resulted in 10 final entries of potential flag redesigns which can be seen in this report. No official change came about from this contest.

Besides Handy’s bills, The Organization for a New Utah Flag has also warranted media attention with its design for a new Utah flag.

Jonathan Martin, spokesman for the New Utah Flag Organization, said the flag “is something that matters because we are talking about the identity of Utah.”

He said that in Utah there is hardly any pride in the state flag and by redesigning it, Utah has a chance to “rebrand.”

“Utah makes almost nothing off of flag branding,” Martin said. He pointed out that a new flag will create excitement and generate income through selling flag paraphernalia. This extra money for the state could then be used for education programs or increasing teacher salaries, he said.

The New Utah Flag Organization has already sold over 100 flags with its new design, according to Martin.

The Organization for a New Utah Flag designed a commemorative flag for the 125th anniversary of Utah’s statehood that spokesman Jonathan Martin said he hopes will eventually become the new Utah state flag. (Jonathan Martin)

As designer of the flag, Martin said his design covers the entire history of the state through symbolism. He said his flag design acknowledges the pioneers and the industrious people of today while also paying tribute to the Native nations and the transcontinental railroad.

The most prominent symbol on his flag is the beehive. “We are the beehive state. We have one of the greatest symbols in the entire country that is instantly recognizable,” Martin said.

“The current flag we have designed is the result of public and professional feedback,” Martin said.

New Utah Flag conducted a survey in January 2020 of over 250 participants that resulted in 90.5% of people preferring its design over the current flag.

In 2019, Rep. Keven Stratton drafted a bill to replace the current state flag with Martin’s design. This bill was facing off against Handy and McCay’s bill the same year to create a State Flag Review Commission. While neither was passed, the flag controversy and both bills got covered in multiple news outlets.

The New Utah Flag Organization has recently started an initiative for its design to be a commemorative flag for Utah’s 125th anniversary of statehood. A press release stated its flag will “be sponsored and supported for legislation by Senators Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and Curt Bramble, R-Provo, during the 2021 Legislative Session.”

Its commemorative flag, however, is currently not included or involved with Handy and McCay’s bill for a state flag taskforce.

John Hartvigsen is the former president of NAVA and worked with Kaye on redesigning Salt Lake City’s flag in 2020. He believes the Utah state flag should not be changed.

“The Utah state flag not only tells the history of Utah and our heritage,” he said, “it is a central part of our Utah state history.”

Hartvigsen said even though the Utah flag is considered by some an SOB — a seal on a bedsheet — the flag is still a “bold, recognizable design.”

“It’s beautifully done. It’s a loved flag,” he said.

He said many flags break the rules of design and are still dearly loved. Examples of these are the California state flag with a detailed bear, the Mexico flag with a complex coat of arms in the middle and the South African flag with six colors. All these flags don’t follow design principles but are still recognizable and “cherished” flags.

In response to the argument many critics use that the Utah flag is too complicated to be put on merchandise, Hartvigsen said, “Do you want a flag that looks good on a coffee mug or one that looks like an emblem that represents the state in a bold way?”

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