AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted Monday to kill a bill that would have changed the Maine state flag to an earlier and more simplistic 1901 design.

But the panel didn’t lower the halyard entirely on a state flag redesign, approving a bill that would direct Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to design a special flag for the state’s bicentennial celebration in 2020.

Dunlap may be uniquely qualified for the task, noting that he occasionally worked as a wedding dress designer and stitcher growing up in a family that ran a small textile business in Bar Harbor.

The committee voted 7-3 for a resolve that, if approved by the full Legislature, would set the bicentennial flag design work in motion. Dunlap said he would lean heavily on the people of Maine for input on the design, including possibly holding public hearings in the months ahead.

“Public legitimacy is brought on by public participation,” he said.

Members of the State and Local Government Committee praised Dunlap for his design of a commemorative bicentennial license plate, which motorists can purchase for $15 and display on the front of their vehicles through 2020. That design features a portion of the state’s current flag and the state seal, which includes the golden North Star and the state motto, “Dirigo” on a blue field, as well as the years 1820 and 2020.

“That was largely my design,” Dunlap said.

Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, and other lawmakers and advocates, including some Republicans, were hoping to replace the state’s current flag with an earlier, three-color version featuring the simple symbolism of a green pine tree and a blue North Star on a field colored light yellow or buff. The old flag dated to 1901 but was replaced as that state flag in 1908 with the current design, which features the state seal on a blue background.

The state seal 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.

Some committee members who had previously seemed open to changing Maine’s flag said Monday they were hearing criticism from their constituents.

“Boy, did I get an earful,” said Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias. Tuell, who said he had been previously open to a redesign, said he heard a range of concerns, including the question, “Don’t you have better things to do?”

“And sometimes a lot more colorful language than that,” Tuell said. He and others said that after hearing from voters in their respective districts, they were more inclined to try a trial run with a bicentennial-only flag.

Cooper, the principal sponsor of the flag-change bill, said she was happy with the committee’s decision, and that her constituents also had mixed opinions about her bill. She said supporters told her they were unaware that Maine once had a pleasing, simpler design for its state flag.

But opponents argued that no change was needed, she said, and lawmakers should focus on higher priorities.

“Clearly, they are not ready to go whole hog on this,” Cooper said.

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

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