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Utah’s flag battle continues, foes to petition for 2024 proposition question on issue

By Tim Vandenack - | May 10, 2023

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

The new Utah state flag is displayed during a Utah County Commission meeting in Provo on Wednesday, May 10, 2023.

Utah’s simmering flag battle — a seemingly never-ending tug of war between flag traditionalists and those who advocate changing with the times — now enters a new stage.

Foes of the new state flag were unable to get enough signatures on petitions to put a challenge to Senate Bill 31 on the November ballot. S.B. 31, signed into law in March, creates the new red, white and blue banner that replaces the dark blue flag with the state seal in the middle. Prior to that, the new flag critics couldn’t muster backing from enough lawmakers to block S.B. 31 in the first place.

Now, as the issue gains a dose of national attention, they’re trying a different approach — gathering signatures to put a proposition on the 2024 general election ballot calling for the repeal of S.B. 31. Their initiative, called Restoring the Utah State Flag, will necessitate collection of 134,298 signatures from registered voters across the state by Feb. 15, 2024.

That 134,298 total was the same amount they needed in their initial effort last March and April, and though they only collected around 50,000, Chad Saunders — who’s pushing the cause — remains upbeat. The flag foes had less time to gather signatures in the prior effort and had to contend with wintry weather, which made it tough to reach the public.

The 50,000 or so signatures gathered is “a pretty good indication that people didn’t want the flag changed, they don’t want S.B. 31,” he said.

Image supplied, Utah Department of Cultural and Community Engagement

This image shows the new Utah flag on top and the current state flag on the bottom.

For now the flag opponents, who filed the required paperwork to launch the effort on May 2, are awaiting receipt of the petition template, which the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s Office is preparing. Once received, they’ll start seeking signatures and probably will be out in full force over the summer.

“Voters of Utah in favor of Restoring the Utah State Flag would rally Utah citizens around one flag and preserve Utah’s history. Instead of rebranding Utah, it will inspire patriotism towards the state of Utah, make residents proud to call oneself a Utahn,” reads the cover letter to Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson accompanying the paperwork required to launch the petition drive.

S.B. 31 paves 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 takes effect. The dark blue flag becomes Utah’s “historic” flag — usable for those who prefer it — and will still be flown at the Capitol.

That compromise, though, isn’t enough for Saunders and the others. New flag proponents have argued that a more distinctive banner will bolster pride in the state, even help boost the state’s identity and uniqueness. Foes, though, are happy with the dark blue flag and the symbols steeped in Utah history that it depicts.

Beyond that, the new flag foes say the issue underscores to them that Utah lawmakers aren’t attuned to citizens. “The flag is kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back. People are tired of not being listened to,” Saunders said.

The Wall Street Journal published a story on May 6 on the issue, with a headline — “Can a State Flag Be Too ‘Woke’? Some Utahns says so” — that suggests the issue is evolving into a debate about “woke” culture, at least for some. “Woke” is the pejorative term used by some political conservatives to denote, among other things, ideas or concepts they deem as excessively liberal or out of touch.

The Wall Street Journal article is behind a paywall, but the Daily Mail, the British newspaper, published a story based on the New York publication’s story. “A row has erupted over the new state flag of Utah, with opponents claiming the new design is ‘woke‘ and GOP backers saying the older flag was boring,” the Daily Mail story begins.

Further down, the Daily Mail quotes just one person decrying the new flag as “woke,” a Utah man identified as Scott Vandenhazel. “We don’t need the woke design,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Blake Moore entered into the fray, suggesting in a Facebook post on Sunday that tying the flag issue to “woke” culture trivializes legitimate gripes about “woke” things: “If modernizing a flag is woke, then conservatives lose our voice on the things that really are woke.”

One of Moore’s foes in his 2022 reelection bid, Republican Andrew Badger, posted his own ominous Facebook message in response to the U.S. lawmaker. “There are few things more powerful than the symbols that unite us. Across time people were willing to fight and die for such symbols. Casually changing them (to) score short-term political victories will open a pandora’s box of never-ending change … until one day we wake up and don’t even recognize who we’ve become,” Badger wrote.

Meantime, Utah Rep. Mike Schultz, a Republican from Hooper who sponsored S.B. 31 in the Utah House, put the issue in simpler terms. He voted for the new flag and was quoted in the Wall Street Journal article, according to the Daily Mail.

“We had a sucky flag. Now we have a cool flag,” Schultz said.

Editor’s note: This story has been fixed to correct the spelling of Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson’s first name.


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