S.O.B. no more—Utah Legislature approves redesign of the state flag | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

S.O.B. no more—Utah Legislature approves redesign of the state flag 

Beehive State

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click to enlarge Senate President Stuart Adams (left), Sen. Luz Escamilla (center) and Sen. Dan McCay (right) pose for photos with the new Utah State Flag after the final passage of SB31. - BENJAMIN WOOD
  • Benjamin Wood
  • Senate President Stuart Adams (left), Sen. Luz Escamilla (center) and Sen. Dan McCay (right) pose for photos with the new Utah State Flag after the final passage of SB31.

CAPITOL HILL—After years of debate, the creation of a special task force and the input of thousands of residents, lawmakers on Thursday gave final votes of approval to a redesign of the Utah State Flag.

The new flag prominently features a beehive and star in a hexagonal shield, backdropped by red rock canyons, snowy white mountains and a blue sky. It replaces a cluttered and rarely-flown design that consisted of the State Seal on a blue background—a style derided by flag enthusiasts as a "Seal on a Bedsheet" (or S.O.B.) and virtually indistinguishable at a distance from nearly half of the nation's state banners.

"I love the seal. I think we have one of the greatest [state] seals in the nation," said Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper. "I don't think it makes a great flag."

Schultz was the House sponsor of SB31, which enshrines the new design as the state's flag while preserving the traditional design as Utah's "historical" flag. During debate, Schultz said that just six months ago he "couldn't care less" about updating the flag, but came to recognize the need for a new design after traveling through Wyoming, Colorado and Texas this summer, state's where a strong design coincides with broad use of the state flag—worn on clothing and apparel, displayed in homes and businesses and adapted for use in diverse private and public settings.

When he returned to Utah, Schultz said, he noticed the lack of popular adoption of the state flag and was reluctant himself to raise it on a flag pole at his home.

"I think this has reinvigorated Utah and the flag," Schultz said. "Hopefully, we have the opportunity to fly more Utah flags after this."

Members of the House voted 40-35 in favor of the new flag, a full month after their Senate colleagues voted 18-10 to adopt the redesign. Throughout the session—and leading up to it—a vocal contingent of flag critics mobilized to oppose the change. But their approach appeared to backfire as the proceedings advanced, with multiple lawmakers commenting that the controversy had prompted them to study the issue and ultimately support it after initial indifference, or objecting to the way that proponents of the new flag were accused of being "traitors" or somehow "unpatriotic" because of their position on the bill.

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, described how her Latter-day Saint ancestors traveled to Utah with the ill-fated Martin Handcart Company. She then quoted lyrics of the Utah State Hymn, "Utah We Love Thee," and how it describes the mountains, valleys and rivers that—along with the beehive symbol—make up the new state banner.

"It fully embraces our pioneer heritage," Pierucci said. "To me, this is doing my grandma right."

And Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, suggested the new flag boasts a distinct design that will better stand out among the nation's state designs. To prove his point, he poked some fun at his colleagues who opposed the change, noting that many of them had failed to properly identify the flag they were pushing to preserve.

"We have several members of this body with a flag on their desk," Hawkins said. "That is the wrong flag."

Following the House vote, members of the Senate took a procedural vote that finalized the bill's passage, gaining a 19th vote in favor in the process. Riverton Republican Sen. Dan McCay, SB31's primary sponsor, became emotional speaking to reporters after the vote and describing the people and organizations who played a role in its passage.

"Let there be no question—this state reveres our history," McCay said. "I believe that Utah's future is bright."

Asked about the lingering objections to the new design—that it is "woke," that it "erases history," that it is overly "simple" or akin to a marketing logo, or that any discussion of flag design is a waste of time and resources—McCay said that he hopes Utahns will give the new design time to establish itself, and that they'll one day embrace it as a new opportunity to identify the state and present it to the rest of the world.

"A flag is so much more than a piece of cloth," McCay said. "It is something for us to unite behind."

SB31 now awaits the signature of Gov. Spencer Cox before having the effect of law. While Cox has not definitively stated whether he will sign the legislation, he previously co-chaired the task force that recommended the new flag design.

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Benjamin Wood

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