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Let the beehive flag fly — Utah petition drive challenging new banner fails

By Tim Vandenack - | Apr 14, 2023

Image supplied, Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement

Utah's proposed new flag, shown in a supplied rendering. The Utah House and Senate approved the final version of the bill creating the new flag on Thursday, March 2, 2023, and it was later signed by Gov. Spencer Cox.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Let the beehive flag fly.

Well, maybe.

The foes who launched a petition drive to force the measure creating Utah's new flag to the ballot have failed, according to the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office. That should pave the way for the new red, white and blue banner featuring a beehive in the middle to become the official state flag on March 9, 2024, when the measure, Senate Bill 31, formally takes effect.

"The referendum won't appear on the November ballot," the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office said.

The petitioners needed 134,298 signatures to force a referendum on S.B. 31. However, county clerks across Utah only validated 21,030 signatures, and even with 28,449 more to be processed, the numbers didn't add up, leading to Thursday's announcement by Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson. The deadline to submit signatures was last Wednesday.

Photo supplied, Jim Owens

The "historic" Utah flag flies beneath the U.S. flag outside the home of Jim Owens of Riverdale on Friday, April 14, 2023.

"Thousands of Utahns, young and old, worked together to inspire the design of the new Utah flag. Today we can finally say that the procedural process of adopting the new flag is complete," Utah Sen. Daniel McKay, the sponsor of S.B. 31, said in a tweet.

Even so, petitioners -- who want to maintain the existing dark blue flag with the state seal in the middle as the official Utah banner -- aren't abandoning hope. The existing flag doesn't fade away under S.B. 31. Rather, it becomes Utah's "historic" flag -- usable for those who prefer it -- and will still be flown at the Capitol.

"We knew is was going to be an uphill battle," said Chad Saunders of Tooele County, a big mover behind the petition drive.

The main goal of petitioners, he said, was to raise awareness about what he and others see as the lack of responsiveness of Utah lawmakers. On that count, Saunders went on, the effort has paid off. "We feel that they need to listen and we started the conversation," he said.

Similarly, Jim Owens of Riverdale, also a key driver of the petition drive, believes most Utahns weren't ever on board with the new flag. That lawmakers still went on and pushed S.B. 31 through anyway, he believes, is indicative of their lack of responsiveness.

"The people are very frustrated with the Legislature because the Legislature does not listen to the people," Owens said.

Saunders doesn't buy the argument that the petition drive failed because people actually accept or like the new flag. "I don't think that's the case," he said.

He noted the obstacles petitioners faced -- a five-day window to file the paperwork to launch the petition drive and cold, snowy weather for much of the 40-day period they had to gather signatures. Indeed, he thinks there's more wiggle room for compromise on the issue.

He recently spoke with Senate President Stuart Adams on the issue, who expressed a willingness to talk "about finding a solution" to the issue, according to Saunders. More immediately, new flag foes have put a resolution on the agenda for consideration at the Utah Republican Party Convention on April 22 that calls for the party to "solely display the historic flag" at all party functions and events.

Meantime, McCay acknowledged the strong sentiments the issue has spurred and noted the provisions that allow for continued use of the dark blue Utah flag. "With citizen input, and an assist from (Gov. Spencer Cox), we will preserve Utah's historic state flag and fix its place at Utah's Capitol so that our history lives on," he said in his tweet.

Proponents of the new flag view it as a means to create a distinctive look for Utah and to better market the state. Numerous U.S. states have flags similar to Utah's -- dark blue with the state seal in the middle.


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