Minnesota state flag debate renewed by GOP lawmaker opposition

Just when the fiery debate over Minnesota’s new flag and seal seemed to settle down, the state’s Republican lawmakers sparked it back up.

Party lawmakers are currently submitting bills to undo the work of the State Emblems Redesign Commission.

Unless the current Minnesota Legislature votes against it, the new flag and seal will become official on Statehood Day, May 11.
A relatively simple flag is set to replace the one Minnesota has flown since 1983 – when a change to the seal also changed the flag – and at least some people don’t like the change.

Speakers at a rally on the Capitol steps Tuesday said it seemed like the legislators who voted to get a new seal and flag were embarrassed of the state of Minnesota.

"We aren't the best state in the country," said Jay Duggan, from Rocks & Cows of Minnesota. "But Alexander Ramsey happened to be standing next to Abraham Lincoln when the Civil War broke out."

Even in the 19th Century, though, historians say Governor Ramsey expressed some reservations about the state seal being too hostile to Native tribes. Complaints about its racist origins have been among the reasons for the change.

Meanwhile, Democrats who were on the redesign commission say they did the right thing, after considering almost 22,000 public comments.

"I think today’s ‘rally’ shows this controversy is manufactured by Republicans," said Sen. Mary Kunesh, (DFL-New Brighton). "From what I could see, it looked like there were more Republican legislators at the press conference than there were Minnesotans gathered outside. By comparison, the commission to consider changes to the flag and seal received thousands of submissions and almost 22,000 public comments. I am proud of that process, and the result, and look forward to seeing the new flag fly over the Capitol. In the meantime, the DFL has real work to do on behalf of the people of Minnesota, who have clearly moved on from this to more important issues in their lives."

But their counterparts in county government are worried the change could be costly.

"In our case, we find ourselves grappling with unexpected financial burdens," said Wright County Commissioner Tina Dietrick.

Wright County leaders say their bill is likely to be more than $150,000.

Republican lawmakers say the least the state should do is reimburse counties for new flags, seals, and badges. Parts of the bills submitted on Tuesday would put new emblem options on the November ballot.

"The goal is not to go back to this flag or to go to the new flag," said Rep. Bjorn Olson (GOP-Fairmont), who – like Sen. Kunesh – was a non-voting member of the redesign commission. "The goal remains Minnesotans deserve the right to vote for what represents them."

The reality is, opponents of the new designs are in the minority, and no DFL lawmakers have shown a desire to undo the work of the redesign commission – a result that could come down to lawsuits.

Rep. Olson says they probably have no grounds to sue over the flag, but they might on the seal.