A newly created commission tasked with redesigning Minnesota’s state flag and seal by the end of this year met for the first time on Tuesday. Among its first orders of business was a discussion over whether members should — or even can — seek an extension of a statutorily-imposed Jan. 1 deadline to complete its work.
“As a teacher I would rather get a quality piece of work after the deadline than a piece of crap before the deadline,” said Anita Gaul, who will serve as vice chair for the 16-member State Emblems Redesign Commission.
A former DFL candidate for state Senate, Gaul is a history instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. She is one of Gov. Tim Walz’s three appointees to the legislatively created commission, which has less than four months to come up with a new state flag and state seal design.
Gaul was referencing a discussion the commission had during its kick-off meeting Tuesday morning as to whether it could accomplish that goal by New Year’s Day.
The new state emblems redesign law — passed by the DFL majority in the House and Senate in May — instructs the commission to create a design that “accurately and respectfully reflect Minnesota’s shared history, resources, and diverse cultural communities.”
While the legislature will review the final designs, the statute instructs that “the design of the state flag as certified in the report of the State Emblems Redesign Commission, as established by this act, is adopted as the official state flag” and will become official on May 11, 2024 — which happens to be the anniversary of Minnesota’s statehood.
Republicans lobbied hard for the legislature to have the final say on the redesigned state seal and flag. But DFL legislators stuck with their original language in a final conference report on the bill that gives the commission final say.
Is 100 days enough time?
While all commission members at the first meeting seemed to be on the same page that a newly designed flag and seal should represent a message and spirit that unifies all Minnesotans, they weren’t exactly sure where to start the process or even how often to meet. And the discussion got somewhat contentious, at times, as to whether just more than 100 days is enough time to come up with a redesign that properly considers public input.
“I don’t mean this to sound pessimistic, it seems to me we have to be thoughtful and thorough about this,” said Secretary of State Steve Simon, who sits on the board as the only voting member who is also an elected official. “We are redesigning a flag and a seal, and even one would make this an ambitious project to get done by Jan. 1. If necessary, I would, myself, have no trouble going beyond the deadline.”
But is that even possible? One chief author of the flag redesign bill said he wasn’t sure.
“I’d certainly be open to the idea (of extending the Jan. 1 due date), but it would require approval from the House and the Senate,” said Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, who carried the legislation in the House.
Freiberg added that because the legislature isn’t scheduled to begin its 2024 session until February, a potential extension of the commission’s due date to complete its work could be amended via a special session. But he wasn’t confident that will happen, even with Gov. Tim Walz telling media at the State Fair this weekend he’s now considering the possibility of calling a special session to fix a new law that’s causing alarm among school resource officers across the state. If a special session is called, more than one item could be placed before legislators to resolve.
“I don’t think we should count on [a special session happening] necessarily,” Freiberg said. “I do think it’s possible to come up with a quality product inside this timeframe.”
Freiberg is one of four legislators who serve on the commission as non-voting members. His House Republican counterpart on the commission said he believes it can complete the work on time, but strongly suggested it meet more than twice a month, as some commission members suggested.
“We need to be honest with ourselves, if we are meeting bimonthly, that’s only seven meetings,” said Rep. Bjorn Olson, R-Fairmont. “I’m more than happy to give all my time to produce a quality, generational change here that will last for ages. But I don’t think meeting two times a month is going to get us there by the end of December.”’
Ultimately the commission tentatively decided it will plan to hold weekly meetings. A few of its members couldn’t commit to attending every meeting.
“I don’t know that I can commit to every week,” said commission member Shelley Buck, who was appointed by Gov. Walz. “I can commit to trying my best to make every week work.”
A final product that ‘represents all of Minnesota’
One of the commission’s other goals for the first meeting was to elect a chair. It chose Luis Fitch, an internationally recognized visual artist and branding expert. Fitch told his fellow commission members that one of the first tasks will be to put together a creative brief for both the flag and seal redesigns to help the public better understand the parameters for the project and what principles of design will be followed.
“[Redesigning the flag] might be really easy,” Fitch said. “But there is a huge difference between what makes a good flag and a good state seal.”
While a flag can be kept simple, with the use of two or three colors, a state seal has to tell more of a story and may even include wording, he said.
“[The seal] needs to be a more sophisticated concept, and then those ideas (likely) need to be translated to a professional designer.”
Commission members also debated whether a new flag and seal need to be tied to one logo. The current state flag contains imagery and mottos that are on the state seal.
The new statute, as written, no longer requires that, Freiberg said.
In the coming weeks the commission plans to structure how it will solicit public input on potential designs and how to structure meetings to receive public feedback as the process winds down.
“Having gone through this debate in the legislature, I know there are many Minnesotans that think we need a new flag, and many that don’t,” said Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, a legislative appointee, who added that he wants to ensure that the public isn’t “shortchanged in the input process.”
“We want to ensure [the redesign] doesn’t represent one ideology or any one thing, but is something that would represent all of Minnesota.”
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.