EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A freshman lawmaker is reviving the push to create a commission to design a new Michigan state flag.
State Rep. Phil Skaggs, D-East Grand Rapids, is expected to introduce the legislation later this month. He says a lot of places have flags that give the community something to rally around. He wants to bring that to Michigan.
“(Places like) Chicago, Arizona, Colorado, the United States, Canada. These are really amazing flags that get used throughout the community and create a sense of pride and unity,” Skaggs told News 8. “This is something that we can have in Michigan, too. The current flag doesn’t give us that.”
The current Michigan flag design, the state seal of an elk, moose and eagle and a series of phrases on a dark blue banner, was adopted in 1911. While it may not stay on the flag, Skaggs said the state seal isn’t going anywhere.
“We will still keep the seal, but seals are for governments. They are for podiums with governors and official letterheads and stamps. Flags are for the people, and we want a flag that people will fly outside of their homes and will put on bumper stickers on their cars and will wear on hats and T-shirts,” Skaggs said.
The lawmaker admits that it is not the most pressing issue but said it is still something that could make a positive impact for the state.
“This is not the most important thing we are going to do in Lansing. It’s not in the top 10 of most important things. We are doing a lot here in Lansing,” he said. “But we are still more than capable of walking and chewing multiple pieces of gum at the same time.”
Skaggs’ legislation is not the first time a redesign commission has been proposed. Former State Sen. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, proposed similar legislation in 2016 and the late State Rep. Andrea Schroeder, R-Clarkston, introduced a bill in 2021.
Skaggs hopes that the idea can attract the interest of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
“This was a bipartisan bill the last time it was introduced,” he said. “Utah just did a massive redesign on their flag from one that was pretty similar to ours, a seal on a blue background to something that is much more impactful and is gaining a lot of support. That bill was put forward by a Republican and had bipartisan support. So, my hope is that this is something that we can all rally behind.”
A new design would be Michigan’s fourth “official” flag. In the years following statehood, communities and groups all across the state flew many different flags. A flag designed by Michigan’s first governor is considered the first official flag. One month after Michigan was granted statehood, Gov. Stevens T. Mason presented a flag to a militia group in Detroit called the Brady Guard. The flag included the state’s coat of arms, a soldier and a woman on one side and a portrait of Mason on the other.
Michigan didn’t technically adopt a state flag until after the Civil War. The flag was designed by Adjutant General John Robertson and approved by Gov. Henry Crapo. It is essentially the one we are familiar with today. Robertson’s design introduced the dark shade of blue we are familiar with today and the state seal on one side. The national coat of arms was on the other.
The Robertson flag flew in Michigan for nearly 50 years before the state Legislature took action in 1911. They voted to remove the national seal and fly the state seal on both sides.
So what should the new flag look like? Skaggs didn’t have any firm ideas, but he has a color scheme.
“I think in Michigan we’d be looking at probably green and blue, for our forest and agriculture and for our lakes and rivers. It also works really well with our two main flagship universities,” he said.
He also recommended following a lot of the basic guidelines that most modern flag designers use today.
“After people began to hear that I might be working on this, people have sent me designs. Designs from everything from the automotive industry to something to do with our unique geography, trying to capture the motion of water and two peninsulas,” Skaggs said. “A lot of people are taking an aspect of our really cluttered current flag and accentuating one part of it. So you’ll see people take the elk and either keep the dancing elk, the elk up on its hind legs, or the antlers and using that as a symbol.”
He continued: “There is a couple of basic principles for flag design which you see in national flags but you don’t see in every or even most state flags. They should be simple enough for an elementary school student to draw, just like you could draw the U.S. flag or the Canadian flag, and that it has meaningful symbolism for what it’s trying to represent. The American flag has a star for every state and a stripe for each of the original 13 colonies.”