The Maine House voted 64-61 to restore the 1901 flag that features a pine tree and blue star.
A finished original Maine flag, made by the Maine Flag Co. in Portland, sits on a table in their studio last month. The Maine House voted June 6, 2023, to replace the current flag featuring the state seal and restore the original flag. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine could restore the original state flag after lawmakers took their first favorable vote on the idea late Tuesday.

The Maine House of Representatives voted 64-61 Tuesday night to advance the latest bill from Rep. Sean Paulhus, D-Bath, seeking to restore the flag that features a pine tree and blue star.

Tuesday’s vote in the House was tight, with all Republicans present joined by just five Democrats — Reps. Bill Bridgeo of Augusta, Jan Dodge of Belfast, Tavis Hasenfus of Readfield, Karen Montell of Gardner and Bruce White of Waterville — in voting against it.

Twenty-five members were absent for the vote, which took place just after 8:30 p.m. following nearly 90 minutes of floor debate. It faces further action in both the House and Senate.

The long Tuesday in Augusta was courtesy of the House first coming to order in the morning before adjourning until late afternoon so committee meetings could occur. Lengthier floor debates also were held on measures such as a failed attempt to shorten Maine’s coyote hunting seasons.

After becoming the nation’s 23rd state in 1820, Maine did not have an official flag until 1901, when it adopted the lone pine flag with a design credited to Adjutant Gen. John T. Richards.

That flag flew until 1909, when the state switched to the current design featuring the state seal on a blue background.

Support for the original lone pine flag has grown in recent years, with proponents arguing it is seen flying on houses and in towns and is more unique than the official design that looks similar to numerous state flags in the U.S.

“I think we have a great seal. I think it does represent our history,” Paulhus said in floor debate. “But it’s not designed for a flag. It was designed for paperwork, for official documents.”

Tuesday night’s floor debate featured no shortage of colorful and at-times emotional comments from lawmakers arguing for either design.

An amendment to the bill clarifies the secretary of state must approve any final design, while two other amendments that failed would have asked voters to decide on restoring the original flag via a referendum or would have created a new design combining elements of the pine tree and state seal versions.

Paulhus also was behind a similar 2021 measure that the House rejected, with similar attempts going down in 2019, 1996 and 1991.

Republicans argued that the state seal on the current flag honors the heritage of Maine, with a pine tree, moose, farmer and seaman on it.

“For those of us who grew up in my part of the state where the woods industry is very prevalent, that doesn’t look like the pine tree that I’ve seen,” Rep. Steven Foster, R-Dexter, said of the 1901 flag. “It looks more like a Christmas tree that a child might have drawn.”

But Rep. Daniel Sayre, D-Kennebunk, said the original pine tree design “is very much consistent with 400 years of Maine history and is a unique and striking symbol of who we are that differentiates us from all the  other states.”

“When I show friends the current Maine flag, they are like, ‘Is that New York? Is that Massachusetts?’” he said.

While the Pine Tree State considers its flag’s future, the governor of Utah signed a bill in March to adopt a new flag design that officially takes effect next year, but a signature-gathering effort is already underway in Utah to retain the old design.

Billy Kobin is a politics reporter who joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked at The Indianapolis Star and The Courier Journal (Louisville, Ky.) after graduating...