Utah’s new flag flies above Utah Capitol for the 1st time

May 18, 2023, 7:27 AM

State officials, including Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, hold ...

State officials, including Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, hold the flag during the raising of the new Utah state flag at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. (Ryan Sun/Deseret News)

(Ryan Sun/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Dan McCay couldn’t stop thinking about the process it took for Utah to adopt a new state flag as he, Gov. Spencer Cox and a group of other elected leaders, government employees, residents and children carried the new flag to a pole on the roof of the Utah Capitol on Wednesday morning.

To him, the group of people holding the flag represented a piece of the thousands of Utahns who either submitted designs or offered feedback that led to the final design that they were holding. Moments later, they clipped the large flag to a line underneath the state’s current flag and hoisted both up to the top of the pole.

“I just love that there were so many Utahns involved in the process, and how the flag was put up today is symbolic of that kind of participation,” said McCay, the Republican from Rivterton who authored the bill that set aside the new flag.

The brief ceremony marked the first time the new state flag has flown atop the Utah Capitol since the Utah Legislature passed SB31 in March. The bill designated the most radically different state flag design in over a century.

The historic moment was a bit anticlimactic, though. The two flags failed to unfurl during the calm, warm, sunny morning.

“You’d think with all these politicians there would be enough hot air to get that thing moving,” McCay joked, as the group stared up at the flag.

While the bill, which also designates the current design as the state’s historical flag, technically doesn’t take effect until March 9, 2024, many residents, businesses and state entities have already started to voluntarily begin flying the new flag. Major venues like Smith’s Ballpark in Salt Lake City and America First Field in Sandy are among its earliest adopters.

In fact, Colonial Flag has already sold about 2,000 flags since the flag design was approved, according to DeVaughn Simper, a vexillologist at the company.

Simper, who was involved in the flag design process as an expert in manufacturing flags, explained that he was not completely surprised by the early support, as it aligned with previous examples of when Utahns become “passionate” about a topic or cause. It happened last year with Ukrainian flags after Russia invaded the country, and it happens regularly with American flags.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, speaks during the raising of the new Utah state flag at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. (Photo: Ryan Sun/Deseret News)

Of course, the current state flag isn’t going anywhere. Cox referenced the “controversy” that arose over the new flag process shortly before he helped raise the new flag Wednesday morning, including a referendum that would have sent SB31 to a public ballot before it could take effect. The measure gained almost 50,000 total signatures but fell far shy of the 134,298 signatures required to be successful.

A Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll of 801 Utahns published in early April found that about 48% supported the new design, while 38% opposed it. But now that the bill is moving toward its effective date, the governor said that he hopes Utahns will fly either flag in the future since the new law essentially offers Utahns to pick whichever flag they want to fly.

“I’m grateful for the compromise that was reached,” he said. “I think the Legislature did the right thing in keeping the historic flag, as well. … I’m hoping that this is something that can bring us together.”

Simper said that since the current flag has been around much longer, it’s difficult to compare sales with the new flag. It’s likely sales for either flag will level off moving forward, as other political and cultural topics eventually take center stage.

He also believes the two flags will be equally popular moving forward, given the arguments he’s seen on either side of the debate.

“We’re anticipating about a 50-50 split based on all the conversation that’s happening online and the different opinions going on,” Simper said. “We’ll be continuing to make both flags for the foreseeable future.”

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, holds the flag during the raising of the new Utah state flag at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. (Photo: Ryan Sun/Deseret News)

That’s an estimate that McCay is thrilled to hear. While he championed the new flag, he told KSL.com that he wants Utahns to take pride in either flag and decide to fly one outside their home or business in the future.

He’s confident that those who oppose the new flag will begin to come around to the design, especially as they see it more often outside of homes, businesses and government buildings moving forward.

“Watching the (new flag) be flown, seeing people run with it, it’s been awesome,” he said. “I guess I’m humbled by the whole thing. Eventually, I’ll fade away and no one will really remember me but the flag itself will be here for a long time.”

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Utah’s new flag flies above Utah Capitol for the 1st time