Jim Dey: Depicting Illinois' real culture might cause interest to flag

Mar. 22—It's always interesting when our elected officials point out — and offer to fix — a non-problem.

That's why the recent discussion of replacing Illinois' allegedly uninspiring state flag with a hip new one is intriguing.

Illinois' current flag, adopted in 1969, features the state seal, which depicts a bald eagle with the state motto in its mouth standing on a rock bearing the seal's creation year and the state's birth year. The image is set against a white background.

How many people have paid enough attention to provide that description? Probably not many.

Who, after all, really pays much attention?

But there are flag watchers out there, and some have really strong views.

Springfield columnist Scott Reeder, in a recent article published in The News-Gazette, called Illinois' flag the "ugliest ... in the union." News reports quoted a flag expert as asserting that Illinois' flag "often finds itself in a forgettable place among rankings of the 50 state flags."

One critic, quoted by The Chicago Tribune, went so far as to denounce the appearance of the eagle on Illinois' flag.

"The eagle looks distressed and confused," the critic stated.

Some flag perusers obviously have too much time on their hands. Then again, artistic taste is highly personal. If some don't like the flag, who's to say they're wrong?

State Rep. Doris Turner, D-Springfield, doesn't want to leave the situation be. She's introduced a bill, now making its way through the legislative process, to create a commission to study the issue and file a report by December 2024. The commission would be charged with suggesting "no more than 10" possible designs.

In one of those overboard statements politicians often make, Turner asserted that excitement generated by the process would provide "another opportunity to engage people throughout the land."

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She also suggests a really cool flag could resurrect the state's damaged pride.

"For years, Illinois was seen as fiscally irresponsible. We have turned that around and returned Illinois to the great state it is, and our flag should reflect that," Turner said in a news release.

Somebody should tell her Illinois still has about $160 billion in pension debt and is tied with New Jersey for the nation's lowest bond ratings.

Still, the flag competition could be interesting. But it raises an interesting question: Could the public stand a flag that accurately depicts the real nature of the state?

The eagle on the current flag may appear "distressed and confused." But how is that compared with:

— A flag depicting moving vans and trucks filled with desperate Illinoisans lining up at state borders en route to more welcoming climes in Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri?

— A forlorn Abraham Lincoln, with pants pockets turned out, prepared to enter a bankruptcy court door?

— Black-hearted legislators accepting envelopes filled with cash from influential lobbyists representing avaricious and powerful special interests?

— FBI agents listening to tape-recorded conversations of powerful politicians discussing plans to boost the rates of a powerful electric utility in exchange for cash?

All those scenarios — and other less-obnoxious ones — are deeply ingrained in Illinois' political and social culture.

In comparison, a spavined eagle doesn't look so bad.