AUGUSTA — Rep. Janice Cooper thinks it’s time to freshen up Maine’s state flag, and to do so she is leaning on the one of the banner’s first incarnations.

Cooper, a Yarmouth Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would see the state lower its current flag, which features the state seal on a field of blue, and raise a new version that depicts a lone pine tree and a blue star on a field of light yellow. The design was adopted as the state flag in 1901 but in 1909 it was retired in favor of the current flag.

The state seal on the current flag includes a pine tree with a bull moose resting beneath it and a star, representing the North Star, above it with the state’s Latin motto, “Dirigo,” in gold letters on a red sash. The pine tree is flanked by a fisherman and farmer, representing the state’s connection to agriculture and the sea. The word “Maine,” in white letters on a light blue sash, stretches out below the seal.

A public hearing on Cooper’s proposal will be held Monday before the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee. Maine is not alone in considering a flag redesign, as other states, including Utah, are also contemplating retiring theirs. Critics dismiss flags that are built around a state’s seal as “S.O.B.s” – for seals on a bedsheet. They prefer designs that are sleeker, simpler and memorable.

Dozens of other states utilize the S.O.B. design, including some of Maine’s New England neighbors. Vermont features the state’s coat of arms, which from a distance looks remarkably like Maine’s flag.

New Hampshire’s flag also boasts the state seal, which depicts a wooden ship, over a base of blue, a design trend that emerged in the wake of the Civil War, according to Cooper.

Most state flags violate what Cooper describes as the basic tenets of good flag design: easy to recognize from a distance, no more than three colors and easily remembered and drawn by schoolchildren.

Janice Cooper

She said she visited Yarmouth fifth-graders to see if they could draw the state flag.

“Some of them did pretty well,” Cooper said, “But for some of them, all they could come up with was scribbles.”

Former state Sen. Eric Brakey, an Auburn Republican, who ran unsuccessfully against independent U.S. Sen. Angus King in the November 2018 election, adopted the image of the old Maine flag for his Free Maine Campaign and letterhead.

Brakey said changing Maine’s flag is a concept he could support, noting that it seems to be one topic that the political left and the right are not in full disagreement on.

“The original flag is unique in its simplicity,” he said. “It has the potential to be so much more iconic and memorable than our current flag.” He added that as Maine approaches its 200th birthday in 2020, he likes the idea of having a public discussion about the state’s symbol and submitting a flag change to a statewide vote.

Cooper said she’s received both support and criticism for the change, with some suggesting the Legislature must have more important work to do. “And Mainers just generally don’t like change,” she said. “Good or bad.”

In the course of researching the flag change, Cooper discovering a 2015 TED talk by radio host Roman Mars, who discussed the design of city flags. The talk also featured advice from Ted Kaye, a flag design expert with the Boston-based North American Vexillological Association.

Staff photo by Fred J. Field

Mars noted that Chicago’s city flag, featuring just four six-pointed red stars on a field of broad white and blue horizontal stripes, is everywhere in the city and so iconic that Chicagoans take great pride in it and their city. He noted some city police officers and firefighters or their families have chosen to have it draped over their coffins instead of the American flag for funeral ceremonies.

“That’s how deeply the flag has gotten into the civic image of Chicago,” Kaye says in a recording played during the TED talk.

“It isn’t just that people love Chicago and therefore love its flag,” Mars said. “I also think that people love Chicago more because its flag is so cool.”

Maine’s current flag looks so much like the flags of other states, it just doesn’t stand out that well and is really not that memorable, Cooper said.

“It’s also so busy you can’t relate to it all, you can’t easily process it,” she said.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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