State flag task force to solicit public input, design suggestions

Utah's official state flag, 2021 | Image courtesy of Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The task force overseeing the process of potentially changing Utah’s official state flag is preparing to launch a public awareness campaign next month.

Utah State Capitol, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 20, 2020 | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Called “More than a Flag,” the initiative is designed to promote interest and generate input on the issue. A basic website has already been created, although the campaign won’t officially launch until Jan. 19, one day after the 2022 Utah Legislature is scheduled to begin its annual regular session.

Members of the public of all ages, including schoolchildren, will be able to submit their own flag design ideas, starting Jan. 19 and up until the end of April, according to the website.

Rep. Elizabeth Weight D-West Valley City, a member of the task force, spoke with St. George News on Thursday regarding the committee’s efforts to date, along with a look toward the anticipated future timeline.

The nine-member task force comprises Gov. Spencer Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and six state lawmakers, plus Jill Love, who is the executive director of the Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement.

The state legislators on the panel include Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton and Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, who were the sponsors of SB 48, a law passed earlier this year officially designating a new commemorative state flag to coincide with Utah’s 125th anniversary of statehood. 

Utah’s 125th anniversary commemorative flag, designated by the 2021 Legislature | Image courtesy of The Organization for a New Utah Flag, St. George News

That commemorative flag, which has been seen flying underneath the U.S. flag and the official Utah flag at numerous state buildings, courthouses and other facilities, is meant to be flown only this year, Weight said. 

The task force is looking into the feasibility of permanently changing Utah’s official state flag, which, like those of nearly half of the 50 states, simply consists of the state seal against a blue background.

The U.S. state flag that most recently underwent a change was Mississippi’s, which earlier this year switched from its longtime design that incorporated the Confederate battle flag to a new one that features a magnolia, its state flower.

Weight noted that, unlike Mississippi’s situation, there’s nothing objectionable about Utah’s current state flag.

“There’s no controversy,” she said. “We don’t have any problem with our flag.”

That, Weight said, brings up the discussion of whether Utah even needs a new flag.

“Why do we need a new state flag and aren’t there better things to invest our money and time into? That’s the conversation and it has two definite sides. Because there are people who really support the idea of a new state flag and there are people who don’t.”

Graphic showing all 50 U.S. state flags, with the bottom three rows featuring similar designs consisting of the state seal on a blue background. Utah’s flag is outlined in red. | Image courtesy of Utah State Flag Task Force, St. George News

Personally, Weight said she is not necessarily enthusiastic about changing the state flag, but she said she assured the other committee members that she won’t be oppositional.

“I’m a process person in this picture,” she said. “I’m just really glad to see the process going forward.”

So far this year, the state flag task force has already convened a few times, with its most recent meeting being at the State Capitol building on Monday of this week. 

During last month’s special legislative session, a bill was passed that essentially pushed back all of the task force’s deadlines by another year.

According to the revised timeline, design submissions will be solicited until the April 30 deadline, after which they are to be evaluated by a review committee that includes professional artists and designers, flag experts, cultural historians and educators. That committee will select a number of finalists.

Then, following a public comment period next August, three top designs will be sent to the task force for consideration. Sometime next fall, the task force will then make its recommendation to the Utah Legislature for final approval, likely during its January 2023 regular session.

If a new official state flag is ultimately decided upon, the current state flag would likely become designated as the “governor’s flag,” a topic also discussed during last month’s special session. Such a move would allow Utah to hang onto its historic flag, albeit in a limited fashion, even as a new and more distinctive state flag is introduced.

Among the state flags that are known for their uniqueness and recognizability are those of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.

Weight said that while some have suggested a more attractive flag design would enhance Utah’s merchandising marketability, she sees it as more than that.

“Our legislators have been in other places where those flags are, and people are wearing images of those flags, on caps, T-shirts, bags and things,” she said. “They have seen that as a point of pride in their state. And so, they want that kind of pride in our state.”

Weight said that what she had initially interpreted as merely a marketing push, she now understands is more of “a push for people to display a symbol from Utah as a point of pride and interest and excitement.”

“That was something that really helped me be a stronger participant in the process,” Weight added.

A quote from Gov. Cox on the “More than a Flag” website highlights his own support for the initiative:

More than a Flag is an opportunity to think about what unites us — as Utahns. I believe this conversation can help us come together. A new flag can help us reframe our ideas of what’s important — and to remind us that our state’s greatest days are still ahead.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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