The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Robert W. Glover is an associate professor of political science and honors at the University of Maine. These are his views and do not express those of the University of Maine System or the University of Maine. He is co-leader of the Maine Chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network.
By now, you’ve probably seen Maine’s original 1901 flag: a lone pine and a blue star on a buff background. But did you know lawmakers in Augusta are considering LD 115, a measure that would make it the official state flag once again?
I join a growing chorus of Maine voices that support this initiative. I will likely lose many friends in making this argument. But I want to let you all know that I regret nothing.
First, note I am an unapologetic lover of all variants of the Maine flag. At our house, we cycle through the 1901 flag, the 1909 flag and the bicentennial flag. However, the 1901 “lone pine” flag occupies a special place in my heart and on my flagpole.
In recent weeks, I’ve seen this cloth reminder of Maine’s past viciously attacked. Opponents of the 1901 flag have called it a “arts and crafts” project or suggested that it looks like a child drew it. They’ve asserted the flag suffers an identity crisis. Is that thing a pine, a spruce, or a fir? On social media, some of you (you know who you are) have dismissively called the 1901 flag the “hipster Maine flag” or “the Edison bulb of Maine flags.” Folks, we’re better than this.
First, supporters of the existing flag feel it is a distinctive snapshot of Maine, an embodiment of the “Dirigo” (I lead) state motto. This is ironic. Our state flag is basically identical to 25 other state flags with a state seal on a blue background. Look at Vermont, Montana, or North Dakota. Placement of the state seal varies or the specific shade of blue. But these flags are kissing cousins.
The first such flag? New York in 1901. That’s right. What better way to “lead” than to join a herd emulating the Empire State?
There are so many copycats that flag experts, called vexillologists, refer to the design as an S.O.B: a “seal on a bedsheet.” And if you’ve not read testimony from Maine’s very own vexillologist, David Martucci, on LD 115, you should. It’s compelling and insightful.
Second, yes, the flag is simple. Simple is better. That’s flag design 101. Think of iconic state flags: California, Texas, Colorado. Simple. Reproducible. A talented child or a mediocre adult could draw a passable version after a glance.
No surprise then that Maine ranked 60th in a ranking of American state and Canadian provincial flags conducted by the North American Vexillological Association. We surpassed only the dregs of other S.O.B. flags. But if we passed LD 115, we could join the exalted ranks of New Mexico, Alaska and the Marshall Islands.
Lastly, a reassurance for lovers of the existing flag. The proposal’s path in the Legislature looks dim. But even if LD 115 passed, the beloved fisher, farmer and resting moose are not going anywhere. No gray-faced, soulless bureaucrat is coming to confiscate your flag. My house will continue to cycle through our Maine flag collection. The state seal will be used in all sorts of official settings.
Let us consider truly eloquent legislative testimony from Secretary of State Shenna Bellows on LD 115: “Symbolically today, flags remind us of our unity as one people engaged in a common cause, and of surviving difficult struggles together. The design of the flag is made meaningful by the people who embrace it.”
Personally, I hope we restore the “lone pine” flag to glory in 2021. I recognize that such change can be difficult and slow.
But, all snark aside, after the struggles Mainers collectively endured this year, I’ll proudly salute and make meaningful whatever flag the Maine Legislature chooses. And I’ll do so alongside you all, be it the exquisite 1901 “lone pine” or the plucky, lovable “seal on a bedsheet.”