Local legislators seek flag protocol

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A photo taken by State Rep. Steve Gunderson of the rainbow pride flag flying in place of the Montana State Flag at the Capital Saturday. (Courtesy photo)

A recent controversy over the replacement of the Montana State flag with a rainbow flag associated with the LGBTQ+ community last weekend has led local legislatures to seek to establish protocols for the display and treatment of the state flag.

State Rep. Steve Gunderson, District 1, said that he was completely surprised that there is nothing in state law addressing even protocols for such basic situations as flying the flag at night or in inclement weather.

Gunderson first broke the story on Facebook last Saturday after he noticed that the state flag had been replaced with the pride flag.

“Totally unacceptable action by our Governor!!!,” read Gunderson’s post, which was accompanied by pictures of the flag poles out front of the Capital. “Removal of our State Flag is NOT acceptable and running up a gay pride flag in its place is in REALLY BAD TASTE!!! Total dishonor to the people that revere our State heritage! Remove it and Replace our State Flag!!”

In an interview Wednesday, Gunderson said he feels people have twisted his meaning for political purposes. His concern was the replacement of the state flag.

“I don’t have a problem with what they put up in place of it,” he said. “I have a problem with the process, that they removed, and put up a flag or banner or whatever it may be that has nothing to do with the whole state.”

Gunderson said he had not seen the Irish flag flown in place of the state flag over St. Patrick’s day, noting that it is a very busy portion of the legislative session as well.

“If it was removed and the Irish flag was put up and I noticed it, I probably would have pitched a fit then too, under the same exact circumstance,” he said.

Gunderson said he searched the Montana Code Annotated for protocols or rules regarding the display of the state flag. Neither state code nor the Montana State Constitution gave any guidelines for the display of the flag in general, let alone for display at the Capital.

State Sen. Mike Cuffe, District 1, submitted a bill draft request to establish a protocol. Cuffe said that Gunderson, who is up for reelection, cannot submit a bill draft request this year.

That just paves the way for further action, and no action will be taken until the next legislative session.

Cuffe also said he was surprised to find there was nothing to even provide guidance on the display of the state flag.

Without some kind of protocol, it is completely at the governor’s discretion what to do as far as flying the state flag or other flags at the capital.

If a different governor wanted to fly any other kind of flag or banner in the place of the state flag — even one offensive to other groups — there would be nothing to prevent it right now, he said.

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