The United States, like many nations, struggles with its trade gap – that’s the difference between the number of products it imports and those it exports. But one product that might not seem like it needs to be imported are the flags flying atop government buildings. One Florida lawmaker has filed a bill attempting to ensure those flags are American-made.
American and state flags at the Florida Capitol and public buildings across the state are flying at half-staff to commemorate the passing of former Florida Governor Reubin Askew. But even to get the flag to half-staff took a meticulous procedure carved from a long list of regulations for flag etiquette.
Tallahassee American Legion Commander Val Frailey read some of those rules from the official handbook of flag protocol. Frailey slapped his hand on the couple hundred pages of rules for flag handling and lamented what he called a loss of understanding.
“So, this is the basis that we come from to try to understand,” Frailey said.
And the Tallahassee Legion Commander isn’t the only one decrying the loss of deference for Old Glory. Melbourne Republican Representative Ritch Workman, a Canadian immigrant who served in the U.S. Army for 14 years before being elected to the Florida Legislature, admitted he can’t force everyone to respect the flag but he can at least make sure those flags displayed at government buildings were made in the country they represent.
“So, to me I have no problem saying can we make sure that remains one of the things we can manufacture here, please? Can we just – can we find a friggin’ way to make sure we buy US-made flags?” Workman said in a phone interview Thursday.
The Canada transplant is sponsoring legislation that would disallow the display of foreign-made American and state flags on government property. He got the idea from a Brevard County school teacher, Matthew Susin, who approached him with the plan after conducting a civics project with his students. The bulk of American flags are still manufactured in on American soil, but trade numbers released in 2012 showed the US imported some $4-million worth of flags from China, leading Washington to pass a federal law requiring military installations to only use domestically-sourced stars and stripes. Tallahassee Legion Commander Frailey thinks the law is a no-brainer. He doesn’t see the point in flying the flag otherwise.
“I was given an award of a watch, had the nice little emblem of the American Legion on it, said the Department of Florida. I got to looking at it real close. It was made in China, defeats the purpose,” Frailey recalled.
Still Workman had his reservations. As a conservative, he was hesitant to issue what he calls a sweeping mandate. But, after finding out resale store chain Goodwill had its own flag manufacturing plant in South Florida, he was willing to compromise.
“That’s typically the kind of legislation I stay away from. In this particular case, thankfully American flags are still price-competitive if not on the most side less expensive than even oversees manufacturing can do. Because you still have to ship those things oversees,” Workman explained.
Diana Valencia, Goodwill’s Miami Vice President of Apparel, thinks the bill could help encourage local business and spur job creation. Valencia said the 20-year old Miami plant goes to great lengths to make sure every part of their flags come from purely American sources.
“You know, we not only make the flag here in the United States but we have to ensure that all the components that go into the flag come from the United States, that the cotton is grown in the United States, and that all the suppliers that supply components of the flag are here in the United States,” Valencia affirmed. “So, it makes great sense for boosting the economy here in the United States.”
If Florida passes the “All-American Flag” bill, it would join a growing list of states, including Tennessee, that have passed similar laws.
Workman’s bill wouldn’t affect previously negotiated contracts -- it would only apply to purchases made after January 1. A provision making flying a foreign-made flag a misdemeanor was also stricken from the bill. Instead, Workman says those caught defying the law would only be subjected to a little public shaming.