Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday that he has no interest in changing Maryland's state flag — a statement made in apparent reaction to an online petition launched from the conservative media outlet Red Maryland claiming that "Maryland's flag is under attack."
"Not only is the Maryland state flag a symbol of unity and pride, but it is also the most beautiful and most recognized state flag in America," Hogan posted on his Facebook page Thursday. "You can rest assured that it will never be changed as long as I'm governor."
No state lawmakers have announced plans to change or eliminate the flag.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat, said he had "never heard of such a proposal prior to the governor inventing it." He suggested that Hogan, a Republican, was appealing to his political base "by fabricating a story on something that has never been an issue."
A petition from Red Maryland calls on people to sign as a show of support for the flag, and says, "Radicals are trying to force Maryland to change our flag."
Brian Griffiths, editor-in-chief of Red Maryland, said the petition was intended as a pre-emptive strike to dissuade lawmakers from considering changes to the state flag. Red Maryland wanted to send a message that amid discussions of monuments and symbols, lawmakers should not go too far.
"It was time to draw a line in the sand," Griffiths said.
Hogan, a Republican, linked to the petition on his Facebook page. As of Thursday afternoon, it had more than 42,000 signatures.
House of Delegates Speaker Michael E. Busch said in a statement that the flag is safe.
"Our flag has a great story: A story of reconciliation," the Anne Arundel County Democrat said. "There are no plans in the Maryland House of Delegates to change our state flag."
The flag, first flown in 1880 and adopted as a state symbol in 1904, includes the black-and-gold pattern of the Calvert family and the red-and-white pattern of the Crossland family. The black-and-gold Calvert pattern was an unofficial state symbol during the Colonial era.
Pro-Confederate Marylanders used the red-and-white Crossland arms as a sign of resistance to the Union. That has given some people pause, as Americans reconsider symbols and monuments linked to the Confederacy in light of a demonstration involving white supremacists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month that turned deadly when a neo-Nazi supporter drove a car into a crowd.
Even before that, local graphic designer Benjamin Jancewicz drew attention on Twitter earlier this month for highlighting the history of the flag.
Jancewicz said he thought it was "ridiculous" that Hogan and Red Maryland — which linked to a Baltimore Sun article about his research — seized on his comments and turned the flag into a political issue.
Jancewicz said he never advocated for changing the flag; rather, he said, he wanted to make people more aware of the meanings behind the flag's symbols.
"That history should be a lot more well known," he said.
Jancewicz suggested that Hogan might be trying to gain favor with those who criticized him for supporting the removal of a statue of U.S. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney from the State House grounds in Annapolis. Taney wrote the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and found that black Americans could not be citizens.
"I think he is making a political move," Jancewicz said of Hogan. "He is riding a wave of Republican outrage over something that no one is calling for because he wants to make sure he speaks to his base."
Meanwhile, some state lawmakers have said they intend to revive efforts to modify or eliminate the state song, which has pro-Confederate lyrics that call President Abraham Lincoln a "despot" and urge the state to spurn "the Northern scum."
Efforts to change the song have failed multiple times. The eight members of the General Assembly's Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus say they will support efforts in the next session, which convenes in January.