Why One Lawmaker Wants to Redesign Michigan’s State Flag—And How it Could Actually Happen

By Kyle Kaminski

April 14, 2023

State Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) thinks that Michiganders deserve a new state flag. And later this month, he hopes to form a statewide team that can ditch the 158-year-old design once and for all.

MICHIGAN—State Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) thinks that every state flag should be a unique symbolic representation of each state’s history and culture. They should reflect the people, places and things that make each state great—and help show off state pride, he said.

But when it comes to Michigan, he spots some room for improvement. 

And that’s why this month, he plans to introduce legislation that calls for a total redesign.

“The unfortunate truth is that we could do much better at having a state flag that we can rally around and that meets really good design principles,” Skaggs told The ‘Gander this week.

“People are yearning to be able to tell other people that they are proud Michiganders.”

(Michigan Secretary of State via Facebook)

Michigan’s state flag, like many others, hasn’t changed much since it was created. The current two-sided, moose-and-elk design—which is the state’s coat of arms on a plain, blue canvas—has been featured on the flag since it was adopted by the state legislature in 1911.

And Skaggs thinks Michiganders are past due for an update. 

“Our flag violates many of the core principles of flag design,” he explained. 

Vexillologists, or those who study flags, have established five basic principles of a visually pleasing flag design. It must be simple—meaning that a child could draw it from memory, and it must use meaningful symbolism to relate to whatever the flag is trying to symbolize. Experts say it’s also best to stick to two or three basic colors, avoid lettering or seals, and to be distinctive.

(Yes. Vexillology is a real thing. There’s even a whole Reddit community dedicated to it.) 

Michigan’s flag is what vexillologists refer to as a “seal on a bed sheet,” meaning it isn’t anything more than a state seal on a plain background. With 11 different colors and an array of latin phrases, the design has been repeatedly ranked among the most poorly designed in the US.

Those looking for better flag designs may consider Japan and Canada, Skaggs suggested.

“I’ve always been interested in symbols and how meaningful symbols create a common sense of identity that helps people get things done,” Skaggs said. “This is not the most serious thing that we have done and will do in Lansing, but it does have meaning.”

Skaggs said he plans to introduce legislation on April 29 that would call together a commission of design experts—each appointed by the governor or the legislature—that would solicit design ideas from the public, and eventually narrow it down to 20 new designs.

“These people could be art history professors from the University of Michigan, or branding experts from the corporate world,” he said. “They’ll open it up to a contest for the public.”

Skaggs said the commission would then be tasked with selecting the winning design, which would have to be proposed as another piece of legislation that would require another vote. If all goes as planned, the newly designed flag would start being “phased in” in 2025, he said.

“This is something that I would love to see taken up at some point this year,” Skaggs said. “And then, ideally, we can have ourselves a new flag to rally behind for the state in 2025.

Utah reportedly made similar moves last month when lawmakers there voted to replace their longtime blue flag showing the state’s seal for one with a more modern and simplified design. It took about one year. Mississippi also changed its flag design in 2020, as did Georgia in 2004—though those were to remove Confederate symbolism from their flags. 

Rep. Phil Skaggs (D-East Grand Rapids) speaks with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Lansing. (Rep. Phil Skaggs via Facebook)

As recently as 2021, Michigan lawmakers have also tried (and failed) to get the ball rolling on a redesigned state flag. But this year, Skaggs sees an opportunity for new momentum—namely because so much progress has already been made on so many other, more pressing issues.

Skaggs has either sponsored or co-sponsored 28 pieces of legislation this year—including restoring prevailing wage laws, consumer safety regulations, and recently signed gun reforms.

“I’m doing a lot of work, and on the side, I’m doing some of this flag business as well,” Skaggs said. “So, I think if anyone has paid attention to the news and the media lately, they know that we’re getting a lot done here in Lansing, and I think we can do this one little thing too.”

If legislative history is any indication, Skagg’s forthcoming bill would be likely to land in the House’s Government Operations Committee, which is chaired this year by State Rep. Tullio Liberati (D-Allen Park). Liberati didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment this week.

Did You Know?

The first known flag to represent Michigan was flown in 1837—the year Michigan became a state. It featured the same design, as well as a soldier and a woman on one side, and a portrait of the first governor, Steven T. Masons, on the other side. The current flag design also featured an image of the coat of arms of the United States on one side, but that was dropped in 1911.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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