Thirteen residents of Minnesota appointed to redesign the state’s flag voted to approve a final rendition on Tuesday of what is likely to begin flying across the state in May. But even as they did, two Republican legislators who sit on the committee as non-voting members said they plan to issue a minority report that reflects their opinion that the process was rushed and did not include enough public input.
The State Emblems Redesign Commission made a relatively significant modification to the submission they chose last week from among three finalists. That winning submission was designed by Andrew Prekker, a 24-year-old designer from Luverne, Minn. Prekker is a recent alumnus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College, the same school in Worthington where commission vice chair Anita Gaul (a former DFL candidate for state senate) is an instructor. Prekker’s design was chosen following a winnowing process of more than 2,000 entries submitted to the commission in October.
Prekker’s winning submission featured a dark blue Minnesota border-like shape on the left side of the flag with a white “Polaris”-style star. Three stripes protrude out from the Minnesota border — white, green and teal.
Trimming down the color scheme, emphasizing imagery of the river
On Tuesday, the commission went over a dozen variations of that design that it had consultants mock up based on feedback they had received from the public. After some discussion on elements and interpretation and what makes for good design, commissioners settled on a more simplistic version: where the Minnesota shape and color remains, but the tri-color stripes are reduced to one color, teal. The commission also voted to refine the shape of the white star on the left side of the flag to look more like the eight-pointed star featured in the State Capitol rotunda.
While the commission debated whether to stick with something closer to Prekker’s submission, it ultimately found favor with commission chair Luis Fitch’s interpretation of the final design, which he said illustrated a nod to the importance of the Mississippi River to the founding of Minnesota.
When he looks at what the commission voted as their final flag design on Tuesday, Fitch said, “I see the Mississippi River pointing up to the North Star.
The Mississippi River, Fitch said, is “the most important river in the U.S. and one of the best and biggest (rivers) in the world.”
Commissioners expressed support for Fitch’s assessment even as they said they received many public comments asking to stick with Prekker’s original design that features the white, green and teal stripes.
“I would just say I would be happy with any of (the final variations), I am just wary of us trying to do too much,” Simon said. “The common denominator (among the variations to Prekker’s design) is two things: The north star, and the water.”
“Green is a great color,” Simon said, “but that is now trying to do a third thing.”
Sen. Steve Drazkowski admitted to appreciating the final product the commission landed on. “The thing I like about (this selection) is it seemed more unique amongst the flags” of other states and flags around the world, Drazkowski said. “There was a very involved discussion over the weekend about people saying the one with the three stripes with the green looks like another country’s (flag) or another state from another country. We should try to avoid additional controversy where we can.”
Drazkowski was referring to a debate among some on social media over the weekend that some of the variations to Prekker’s design too closely resembled the flag of a province in Somalia.
Secretary of State Simon downplayed that argument, saying that there are many other examples of state flags that look similar to or are inspired by designs from other flags around the world. He pointed out that the flag of Texas is “strikingly similar” to the flag of Chile. He also said that the flag of Iowa is similar to the flag of France. Both state flags were created after those national flags.
Simon said people from those states have “taken great exception” to the idea that their flags were copied from other countries.
“If through our hours and hours of deliberation we create a flag which in some peoples’ minds may kind of sort of resemble a flag somewhere along the way from somewhere in the rest of the world, either at the national or province or state level, I think that’s okay,” Simon added.
After the commission voted to approve the final iteration of its new flag that it is required by state statute to submit with its new seal to the legislature by Jan. 1, Prekker, the winning designer, took to social media to praise the modifications even as many publicly supported his original submission.
“As the designer, this final version of my flag receives my full emphatic support!” Prekker said. “The submission rules made it very clear that submitted designs would be tweaked if chosen, so I already knew my original flag would likely change. However, the committee still kept the (four) main elements I considered most important to my flag.”
“The Minnesota state shape, the symmetry of it, the white North Star, and the light blue that references the several significant meanings of water to our state,” Prekker added. “The heart of my flag still remains, the committee just polished it up!”
Minnesota’s current flag — which was updated in 1957 after the original was created in 1893 — has been the subject of controversy and criticism among many in recent years. Authors of the bill said last spring that the current state flag’s design principles are poor. They also said the imagery contains tones of racial prejudice towards Native Americans.
Dare I say anything that’s not a Native person being forced off their land is a flag upgrade?! Excited to have a new state flag that represents every Minnesotan.😊 https://t.co/cuuOLu7RHs
— Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan (@LtGovFlanagan) December 19, 2023
The commission to redesign the flag was created over the summer after the DFL-majority House and Senate passed a bill that instructed the state to redesign both the state flag and seal.
Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, sponsored the bill in the House, and Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-Shoreview, sponsored the bill in the Senate.
The commission is expected to meet at least one more time before it’s Jan. 1 deadline to submit the new flag and seal designs to the legislature. It is required to author a report explaining its process for its selections.
Republican members will say the public should be able to vote up or down on final designs
During the close of the meeting on Tuesday, Rep. Bjorn Olson, R-Fairmont, announced he and Sen. Drazkowski would be authoring a “minority report” they plan to seek to be included along with 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.”
Olson also said he and other Republican legislators had advised their colleagues to insert a mechanism into the statute that would allow Minnesotans to vote the new designs up or down. Secretary of State Simon said lawyers in his office said they believe such a vote would not be allowed by the state constitution.
When the emblem redesign legislation first hit the Senate floor last April, Republicans were able to convinced one DFL senator to support their amendment that would give the legislature the final say on the designs created by the commission.
Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, cast a swing vote to give the legislature the final approval of the designs. But in May, a conference committee made up of DFLers in the House and Senate added language creating the commission and the redesign process that did not include the Senate version. As such, when the legislature receives the new flag and seal submissions, that will effectively make them the official designs on May 11, 2024, according to the statute. It’s not yet known what the phase out will look like of the old flag and seal.
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.