As DFL legislators appear poised to pass a bill that would have Minnesota on its way to flying a newly-redesigned state flag by the end of this year, one Republican senator is floating an idea for what that flag should look like.
Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, believes a rendition of the logo of the former Minnesota North Stars professional hockey franchise could serve as the unifying symbol that proponents of a new state flag claim they are looking for.
“This is a flag that will unify Minnesota, I think we can all agree on that,” Drazkowski said in a Senate committee hearing last week on the flag redesign bill (SF386). “We need a flag that will bring us all together, and a process (called for in SF386) that may not include everyone very likely is going to leave people feeling left out. That’s not what we want to do.”
Drazkowski presented his idea as an amendment to SF386 and passed around a black-and-white photo copied rendition of the North Stars logo in the Senate State and Local Government Committee last week. He told senators the flag’s background would be green and implied the recognizable capital letter “N” containing an arrow pointing to a star at its top right would be some combination of white and gold.
“We are the North Star State,” Drazkowski said. “I’ve talked to a number of senators, about half of them Democrats, and I haven’t found a one of them that doesn’t think this (North Stars logo) isn’t a wonderful idea at this point to bring forward what could be our next state flag.”
Designing a new flag by Jan. 2024
Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL–New Brighton, sponsors the overall bill that would establish a state emblems commission to adopt a new design for the official state seal and flag and would “phase out materials printed with the current design.” The deadline for adoption of a new design would be Jan. 1, 2024.
Kunesh told committee members the current flag and state seal represent a historical context that is hurtful to the American Indian community in Minnesota. Her bill would create a commission redesign process that would result in a flag all Minnesotans can be proud of, she said.
Kunesh opposed Drazkowski’s North Stars logo amendment because she said it shortcuts what should be a more deliberate process that should involve a wide range of stakeholders. She also questioned whether adopting the North Stars logo as the Minnesota state flag would come into conflict with copyright infringement. It appears the NHL has the most recent trademark ownership of the North Stars logo, according to recent trademark filings.
The committee voted down the North Stars flag design on a party-line vote (7 DFL senators opposed, 6 Republican senators supported).
Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, acknowledged the clean look of the North Stars logo as a potential state flag candidate even as he voted against it.
“Considering the green background, it would be too reminiscent of (former team owner) Norm Green, who of course took the North Stars to Texas with him,” Cwodzinski said.
DFLers then voted in favor of moving the overall bill onto the Senate Rules Committee (also on a party-line vote), which would likely be the final stop before the bill gets a hearing on the Senate floor.
The DFL holds a one seat majority in the Senate, so it would take just one DFL senator to break ranks on a party line vote to defeat the flag redesign bill. More than one dozen DFL legislators sponsor a similar bill in the House.
Debating imagery and design principles
Kunesh believes the current state flag and official state seal — which has been in existence in some form or another since the late 19th century — is poorly designed and contains racist overtones toward the American Indian community. The most egregious of these elements, Kunesh said, is a juxtaposition of a person tilling soil in the foreground of a farming field and an American Indian riding a horse in the background. The emblem on the seal and flag also features a rifle leaning against a tree stump that appears to belong to the farmer.
“We’re supposed to be proud of our state symbol,” Kunesh told committee members considering the bill. “And it’s hard to be proud of a symbol that seems to say that our indigenous people are not wanted in their own state.”
Drazkowski said in his close inspection of the state flag he doesn’t see any conflict within the imagery.
“I don’t see any fighting in this scene,” Drazkowski said. “I see two individuals coexisting …Different people will take away different interpretations in what they see in the seal and the flag.”
The proposed legislation is the latest of several attempts by some legislators and members of the public over the last several decades to redesign the flag and improve its standing among members of the vexillology community, who have ranked it as one of the worst flags in North America, partly due to its design and partly due to its culturally insensitive messaging, Kunesh said.
The bill contains a provision that would create a state emblems redesign commission comprised of: three members of the public appointed by the governor, two state senators and two representatives from the state house (chosen by DFL and Republican leaders), and representatives chosen by the Minnesota Historical Society, state tourism board, state capitol architectural board, and state arts board. The commission would also include representatives chosen from the following organizations: Minnesotans of African Heritage, Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans and two members appointed by the Indian Affairs Council.
Republican senators said the specific inclusion of those cultural organizations leaves out a majority of Minnesotans from other backgrounds.
“If we want to have inclusion in this state, which is what everyone is fighting for, why are we specifically not including people who represent 83% of our state’s population on this commission?” Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, commented. He cited exclusion of organizations that represent the Polish, Swedish, German, Irish and Jewish communities in Minnesota.
Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, acknowledged that a final version of the bill should probably include a wider spectrum of stakeholders.
“Maybe we should even have someone who represents the French, because this state was French at one time,” Carlson said.
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.