A bill that would replace Maine’s current state flag with a new version that draws on a century-old design attracted strong support during a legislative public hearing Monday.
Proponents said the new design, which features a blue star and an evergreen tree on a pale yellow field, does a better job of representing Maine than the current flag, which shows the state seal on a dark blue background.
Patrick Woodcock, a Portland resident and the former director of the Governor’s Energy Office, said Maine’s seal, as featured on the current flag, is rich with symbolism and beautiful.
“But what it does is it tries to accomplish so much that you can’t identify with it,” Woodcock said.
He said that when he first saw the 1901 design on which the proposed replacement flag is based, it was like “finding a gem in the attic from an old Maine relative.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, said the new flag hits all the high points for good flag design in that it’s simple, easy to recognize, a child can draw it from memory, it has meaningful symbols on it and no words. It actually served as the state flag from 1901 to 1909, when it was replaced with the current version featuring the state seal.
The seal includes a pine tree with a bull moose resting beneath it and a star, representing the North Star, above it with the state motto, “Dirigo,” in gold letters on a red sash. The 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.
Cooper said her bill would not cost the state any additional money as it allows the new design to replace the old as older flags wear out and would not require any immediate replacement for those required to fly the state flag.
One lawmaker on the State and Local Government Committee, which held the hearing, said farmers in her district were concerned that the farmer now depicted on the current flag would be left out.
Rep. MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox, said in her town there were more “bovines than humans,” and agriculture was still a large and important part of Maine’s culture and economy.
“I don’t dislike the old flag, but I also don’t dislike our current flag either,” Kinney said. She suggested the new design be tried out during the state’s bicentennial celebration in 2020 and then put out to voters for approval or disapproval.
Woodcock and others voiced support for the idea of giving the flag a trial period during the bicentennial, saying the last thing advocates for a change want is a Legislature divided over the look of Maine’s flag.
Others testifying for the change including Rep. Deane Rykerson, D-Kittery, a co-sponsor of Cooper’s bill. He said the current flag was too indistinct. Rykerson also criticized the rendering of the moose on the current flag.
“I do like the symbolism on our state flag, but that poor moose kind of looks like a gerbil,” he said.
Also testifying in favor of the change was the state’s former public advocate Timothy Schneider, a Portland resident who works in the technology sector. Schneider believes the new flag would add to Maine’s brand, including for Maine-based agricultural products as well as other industries.
Schneider likened the discovery of the state’s original simple flag design to finding out you have oak framing in an old home as you begin to remodel and are tearing down rotting drywall.
“It is very Maine to have good bones like this,” Schneider said.
Those who manufacture and sell flags in Maine said the current state flag is not a hot item, but since they’ve been offering versions of the old design, they can’t keep up with demand.
Flag scholar David Martucci, a former president of the New England Vexillological Society and resident of Washington, Maine, said there were at least seven companies currently offering versions of the state’s original flag, including firms in Bath, Portland, Skowhegan and Gorham.
Self-described “flag nerds” like Chris Korzen, a Portland maker of nautical flags, said he was among those who have taken to selling the older version of the state flag, slightly redesigned. Korzen, who produces flags, patches, stickers and even a truckers’ hat with the old flag on it, said he’s sold more than 1,000 of the older version flags.
“The demand is there,” Korzen said.
The bill will be the subject of a work session by the committee next week before it is voted on before the full Legislature in the weeks ahead.