By Caroline Cummings

ROCHESTER, Minn. (WCCO) – Few know flags like Lee Herold knows flags — trading a career as a CPA for a Rochester store selling hundreds of them.

“You’ve got to watch out for your hobbies,” Herold said with a smile.

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Customers there can purchase the official Minnesota state flag and another he’s been hoping for years will become the new one: the “North Star flag,” which has a yellow north star against a blue background with white and green stripes.

“I have to say with many years of selling the state flag, I’ve never seen someone come in with enthusiasm for the state flag itself. They come in with enthusiasm for the state” Herold said. “And it’s just the opposite with the North Star flag — they come in and like it right away.”

(credit: Rev. William Becker and Lee Herold)

Changing the state flag is getting another look at the Capitol this year — previous efforts have failed. A proposal in a large state government budget bill subject to end-of-session negotiations would create a 16-member commission to recommend a new seal and flag. The legislature would have to adopt the new designs by May 2023.

DFL Rep. Mike Freiberg, who is sponsoring the bill, said the imagery on the seal — which is on the flag — needs reimagination. It depicts a Native American riding on horseback into the distance as a white farmer tills the land, which has racist undertones, he said.

“It has a very clear connotation,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s a fair representation of Minnesota history, the diagram that’s on the seal. It wasn’t designed with input from the people it depicts on it, and I think that’s a real problem.”

Members on the commission, if passed, would include members appointed by the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, the Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs, the Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans and the Dakota and Ojibwe communities. House Republicans voted against the proposal during committee hearings and the caucus doesn’t see it as a priority among the hundreds of bills introduced this year.

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Supporters of the changes say the current flag doesn’t have the hallmarks of good flag design — simple designs with meaningful symbols, few colors and no words — described by the North American Vexillological Association, a group of flag enthusiasts who study flags.

“People can figure it out without you telling them,” Herold said of the North Star design. “The star’s the north star. The blue, well that’s our 10,000 lakes.”

The first flag was adopted in 1893 and it also included the state seal, but the legislature changed it to the current design with the blue background in 1957, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.

Brandon Hundt, who lives in Minneapolis, also created a design for a new flag that uses the North Star symbolism. He said he turned to a Facebook group, Minnesotans for a Better Flag, for input and landed with a deep blue background with a gold and white star in its center.

“It’s not something we want to celebrate in the flag,” he said of its current design. “I think there’s an opportunity to tell a better story.”

(credit: Brandon Hundt)

He sees an opportunity for the same enthusiasm seen elsewhere for state and city flags. He visited Chicago recently, he said, where residents fly the flag everywhere.

“It’s an iconic symbol,” he said. “Chicago is not a perfect city by any means, but citizens of Chicago take a lot of pride in that symbol and that flag and that’s pretty cool.”

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Freiberg said this could be the first year the proposal gets a vote on the House floor.

Caroline Cummings