In search of a new Oregon flag

Flag-wavers in Oregon share an unusual distinction with Moldova and Paraguay, but the state's largest newspaper wants to change all that. The result is an identity crisis.

Oregon's official state flag features the state seal on one side and — here's the distinction — on the reverse side is a picture of a beaver, the state's official animal. Only Moldova and Paraguay share Oregon's style of two different sides to the official flag. Obviously, this is not an honor to take lightly, or to abandon without study.

Moldova's flag features an official shield with a stern eagle clutching a cross in its beak, and what appears to be a bull surrounded by bric-a-brac. The reverse is simply stripes of red, yellow, and blue. Paraguay features a lion with a red tongue guarding a Phrygian cap, and the slogan "paz y justica," which, given Paraguay's history, might seem ironic. The reverse is a seal with wreaths and a star. Oregon's simple beaver is quite modest in comparison, but the state seal that occupies the other side is crammed with significant emblems, ranging from a covered wagon to a British warship and a plenitude of pickaxes, plows and shocks of wheat. No symbol is left unturned, but bring your reading glasses to identify them.

Into this picture comes The Oregonian, the state's largest newspaper and oldest surviving daily, with a contest to design a new state flag, the winning design to be presented to the Oregon Legislature for Oregon's 150th birthday in 2009.

Entrants were required to do a single design for both sides; in theory this cuts costs because a two-sided flag should be more expensive than a one-sided one. "Why not have a flag design that sets us apart?" suggests The Oregonian. Apart, apparently, from Paraguay and Moldova, at least.

The newspaper narrowed "a couple thousand" entries to ten, which it displays online and invites readers to cast votes. The poll was announced Dec. 11, and within four days attracted some 3,500 votes and a lot of hostile comments by readers, most of whom simply wanted well enough let alone or took the occasion to blast Portland liberals for any number of sins. Still others thought the choices were dumb — too modern, too abstract, too childish, too . . . well, you get the point.

There were enough "leave it alone" responses that The Oregonian added an eleventh option: keep the old Flag.

In the early results (before "no change" was offered), the leader was Entry G, submitted by Randall Gray, a mapmaker for Clackamas County. It features-get this-a beaver! Along with a gold star on a blue background, with green stripes. It's a nice beaver, but I don't get the significance of the star. In any event, Gray got 23 percent of the early votes.

But when the "no change" option was added, despite its late entry, after ten days of voting "no change" had taken the lead with 19 percent. Gray's beaver dropped to 18 percent. Voters have until Jan. 22 to rally around the beaver, or other choices. You can follow the results online.

In case you are wondering, Washington's Flag is also unique: the only state flag with a green background and the only one depicting an actual person, George Washington. Vexillologists take note; this is clearly a flag behind the times, primed for redesign.

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.


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