The State Emblems Redesign Commission that has now wrapped up its work in creating a new state flag and seal is receiving a balance of praise and criticism from across Minnesota as it submitted its final product to the legislature this week.
And one body of lawmakers from north central Minnesota is so displeased with the process and the new designs that it’s preparing a resolution that will tell the governor and the legislature it prefers to keep the soon-to-be retired seals and flags it displays in and around its government property.
On Tuesday, the Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners directed its county administrator to craft a resolution it will vote on next week that will express its displeasure with the designs the State Emblems Redesign Commission approved earlier this month.
The resolution is expected to include language informing Gov. Tim Walz and leaders in the House and Senate of the costs Crow Wing County taxpayers will incur to replace seals and flags on all sorts of county property, including seals emblazoned on county vehicles and even on the badges that county sheriff’s deputies carry with them while on duty. While the commissioners didn’t put a dollar number behind those costs, one board member said he expects they will be significant.
“ … If you want to look at the cost to the taxpayers, look at that seal that’s right behind you,” said Crow Wing County Commissioner Paul Koering during the Dec. 26 board meeting, in which he proposed a resolution criticizing the State Emblems Redesign Commission’s new flag and seal designs.
“We’ve had the conversation that every deputy in the sheriff’s department has three badges that the taxpayers are paying for and has the seal of the state of Minnesota [on it],” said Koering, a former two-term Republican state senator, who represented the Brainerd and Fort Ripley areas of Crow Wing County at the State Capitol from 2003 to 2011. “So all those badges would have to be changed. All the squad cars have the seal. It doesn’t make any sense financially.”
The four other county board members expressed support for Koering’s sentiments.
“I’ve heard from several of my constituents and along the same lines,” said Commissioner Steve Barrows. “That they don’t understand why we would change the flag. I would have to say I am not sure how changing our flag is going to advance our society and yet we are going to pay some money out, the taxpayers are, to make those changes. Personally, I agree with [Koering] and I don’t see the sense in it. I am very proud of the current flag and seal that we have.”
Board Chair Rosemary Franzen didn’t add any comments on the proposed resolution but intimated her support.
Another county commissioner, Doug Houge, said he believes the legislature erred by not finding a way to put the issue to a vote among Minnesotans.
“I have also heard from constituents with the question of why this wouldn’t be on the ballot for the people to vote in or vote out,” Houge said, adding that he believes legislation that created the commission to redesign the flag “is very unpopular” among residents of Crow Wing County.
With that, Crow Wing County Administrator Timothy Houle told the board he would have a draft resolution included on the Jan. 2 board agenda.
Polarizing opinions on final iterations of new flag and seal
The conversation on the flag and seal redesign comes at a time when many Minnesotans are expressing opinions about the change, despite the fact that the legislation that initiated the process flew somewhat under the radar last spring.
Earlier this month, as the commission voted to finalize its flag and seal designs, members of the body openly argued whether to remove the statehood year ‘1858’ from the state seal, as two commissioners said it was a hurtful date for many Indigenous people living in Minnesota.
One commissioner, Kate Beane, who was selected to serve on the commission as a representative of the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board (which is chaired by Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan) said the year “is not worth celebrating.”
Beane is the executive director for the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul and was one of the founding organizers of a movement that began nearly a decade ago to rename Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. She also teaches at the University of Minnesota. Not long after she was appointed to the Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board in June 2020, Beane publicly expressed support for a group of American Indian Movement activists who removed the Christopher Columbus statue from the State Capitol.
“For Indigenous people, having a statue like this in front of the State Capitol, for us, it’s as if there is a statue of Adolf Hitler” at the Capitol, Beane said during a June 25, 2020 board meeting.
Ultimately, Beane was able to garner support from the majority of the commission that then voted to strip the statehood year from the final iteration of the seal. Three members who voted to keep the statehood date on the seal were Secretary of State Steve Simon, State Arts Board representative Keith McKenzie, and Aaron Wittnebel, who was appointed to the commission by the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council to represent the Ojibwe Community.
On Wednesday, Wittnebel took to social media to point out the irony that the new flag and seal will become official on May 11, 2024, which is recognized as Minnesota’s Statehood Day.
“On Statehood Day 2024 when the old flag is retired and the new one raised; it’ll be interesting to see how many of the [nine] Commissioners who defined both Statehood Day and the year of Statehood [as] racist, attend the ceremony at the Capitol grounds,” Wittnebel said.
Republican legislators who served as non-voting members on the commission have promised to bring their criticisms of the final designs and the process that led to those designs to the House and Senate when they reconvene in February.
Rep. Bjorn Olson, R-Fairmont, has said he and Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, will author a “minority report” they want included in the official report of the commission.
“The commission has done a great amount of work and this is not to discount the work or effort” it has put into the four-month process, Olson said.
“We believe there has not been enough time to create an informed decision” on what the new flag and seal should be. “There needed to be more public testimony and we needed to hear from more Minnesotans.”
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.