It looks like Maine’s old state flag won’t be new again, at least not officially.

The Maine House rejected a bill Wednesday that would have replaced Maine’s current flag – featuring the state’s seal set against a dark blue background – with the flag that officially represented the state at the beginning of the 20th century.

Dueling Maine flags: The original, left, which some have advocated for adoption, and the current flag, which bears the Maine state seal. Courtesy photo, left, and photo by Fred J. Field, right

That flag, with its green pine tree and blue North Star set against an off-white background, was used as Maine’s official flag from 1901 to 1909 before lawmakers went with the more traditional state seal design used in many states.

But the so-called “1901 flag” has boomed in popularity in recent years during an earlier attempt to once again have it flying outside of government buildings and on state property. In addition to flying outside many homes and businesses, the 1901 version has been emblazoned on T-shirts and patches, sewn into hats and, during the current pandemic, adorned the face masks of state political leaders.

“Maine people have embraced the 1901 flag,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sean Paulhus, D-Bath, said on the floor of the Maine House on Wednesday (which was actually the convention floor of the Augusta Civic Center). “I have seen that flag on more houses than I do the current state flag.”

Paulhus’ bill did not set a specific timeline for installing the old-but-new flag design but instead called for existing flags to be replaced with the version based on the 1901 design when worn flags needed to be replaced.

Despite that consumer popularity, lawmakers weren’t buying the latest political push to revive the 1901 flag. A vote to approve the flag-replacement bill failed on a bipartisan vote of 57-91 in the House.

Rep. Steven Foster, R-Dexter, said he and many other people who have spent time at sea were proud to see Maine’s current state flag featuring a farmer with a scythe, a seaman leaning on an anchor, and a pine tree and a moose.

“I think that the current flag speaks to the heritage of the state of Maine: Those going to sea – whether it be on merchant ships, those that build the ships or fish off our coast; and those that work the land – loggers, farmers – all share in the heritage of this flag,” Foster said.

Others questioned the necessity of dealing with the flag issue amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“It does seem kind of silly that we are trying to change our state flag during a pandemic,” said Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox. “That is certainly what I am getting from my constituents. They think it is an unnecessary bill. Both flags are unique in their own way.”

The Maine Senate had yet to vote on the bill, L.D. 115, as of Wednesday evening.

A similar measure failed to pass the Legislature two years ago despite a robust public debate. As a compromise, lawmakers directed then Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to come up with a special flag for Maine’s bicentennial celebrations in 2020. The result was a modern-looking flag featuring the Dirigo motto and part of a large green pine tree set against two shades of blue. But the flag never appeared to catch on with the public, at least when compared to the continuing popularity of the 1901 flag.

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