State seal set to get a makeover

After hundreds of years, the state’s coat of arms, seal, and state flag are getting a makeover, or at least that’s the plan.

A commission created by a state resolution that made its way through the Legislature last year and won final approval at 4 a.m. on January 6 holds its first meeting today. The commission doesn’t have its full complement of 19 members yet, but it needs to get moving because it has an October 1 deadline for coming up with a new design. 

The current design, which is ubiquitous on windows, flags, and documents at the State House, features a Native American holding a bow in his right hand and a downward-facing arrow in his left. Above him is a disembodied arm holding a sword.  Underneath, in Latin, are the words “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”

The design of the seal went through several iterations between 1629 and 1780, some of them engraved by Paul Revere. The design didn’t become fixed until the late 1800s, when the Legislature approved a strict description and a statewide contest yielded an official version that remains in use today. 

The commission is charged with ensuring the state’s seal and motto “faithfully reflect and embody the historic and contemporary commitments of the commonwealth to peace, justice, liberty, and equality and to spreading the opportunities and advantages of education.”

The debate over the seal is similar to debates in recent years about statues and team mascots that have come to be seen as offensive. Elizabeth Solomon, an elder of the Massachusetts Tribe at Ponkapoag, issued a statement when the Legislature adopted the resolution urging the governor to quickly sign it. 

“The imagery of the current flag and seal promotes a history of conquest, appropriation, and genocide,” she said.

Lucas Guerra and Scott Zoback, who work for a branding and communications agency in Boston, wrote an op-ed for CommonWealth a year ago suggesting the seal represents cultural values that are centuries out of date.

Whatever your interpretation, it is a boastfully ethnocentric image that shouts a message of domination to every Native American, immigrant, person of color, or other resident who walks into any state building, particularly the State House,” they wrote. “Changing the seal isn’t about erasing history. On the contrary, this is about recognizing history itself, and representing the history of a diverse state in an inclusive manner. This is a small gesture about recognizing the true breadth of experience in our history, even if we will never right wrongs.”

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Huge wrench: The Federal Highway Administration throws what the state’s highway commissioner calls a “huge wrench” into the planning for the I-90 Allston interchange by insisting that all elements be above the flood plain elevation. The highway commissioner, Jonathan Gulliver, said he thinks the all-at grade design of the project as it runs through a narrow stretch of land between Boston University and the Charles River is safe because the bank of the river acts as a dam against water intrusion and because the river itself is dam-controlled.

— The letter from a top federal highway official indicated there was little wiggle room, but he did say that he was confident the problem could be remedied with the right design.

— The right design could get a little tricky. The state could use fill to raise the level of the Turnpike above the flood plain elevation, but that could make a tight fit for the roadway to get underneath a flyover for a railroad track. Another option might be to keep the rail track at ground level and elevate the Turnpike so it goes up and over the track.

— The flood plain concern is the latest barrier to coming up with a design for the interchange. The favorite design puts the Turnpike, rail tracks, and Soldiers Field Road at ground level, but making them all fit is going to be challenging. So far, none of the stakeholders have been willing to narrow lane widths or take other steps to come up with the space necessary to squeeze everything in. Read more.

Baker’s take on taxes: The governor signed most of the state budget for the current fiscal year into law, but used his veto pen to take issue with the Legislature on a number of tax issues. He said the charitable tax deduction shouldn’t be delayed again and reinstated two little-used tax credits that the Legislature decided were no longer necessary. Read more.

New MBTA board in works: The House and Senate came to agreement on a new board to oversee the MBTA and extend pandemic-era voting polices. Read more.

OPINION

Carrot and stick tax strategy: Jim Aloisi says stepped-up enforcement of federal tax collections is a good way to pay for infrastructure legislation. As evidence, he points to a Revenue Enhancement and Protection program launched by the Dukakis administration that brought in a large amount of tax money using an amnesty period followed by a crackdown. Read more.

Children’s Hospital expansion: Paul A. Hattis raises concerns about the move into the suburbs by Boston Children’s Hospital, one of the most highly respected — and expensive — hospital systems in the state. Read more.

Climate change: Rev. Vernon K. Walker of Communities Responding to Extreme Weather and Cambridge City Councilor Quinton Zondervan say we need to rethink our economy to deal with climate change with justice and equity. Read more

Education reset: Fred Jones of the Aurora Institute and Nithya Joseph of America Forward say the one-size-fits-all approach of the education system needs to change. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

MassLive looks at a provision in the budget that Gov. Charlie Baker vetoed related to requirements around testing 6,300 currently untested rape kits. 

Massachusetts Republican Party Vice Chairman Tom Mountain resigns his position with the party, citing “scurrilous and demeaning” blog posts about him – apparently posted on turtleboysports.com – just as the state party executive committee planned to meet to discuss allegations against Mountain. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Redistricting could put Springfield in one state Senate district instead of two – something both current senators say is a bad idea. (MassLive)

There is a plan in Worcester to create a village of 21 tiny homes, which would be provided to people who have been chronically homeless. (GBH)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A mobile vaccination program will serve New Bedford residents through July 31 in an attempt to get COVID-19 shots into the arms of hesitant residents, especially those unable to leave their homes. Currently only 48% of the city’s residents have a first dose. (South Coast Today

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A global investigation examines the use of spyware – in particular the Pegasus software made by an Israeli company – to monitor the activities of business executives, activists, heads of state, journalists, and others in at least 50 countries. (The Washington Post)

ELECTIONS

Super PACs are generating a lot less controversy in this year’s Boston mayor race than they did eight years ago. (Dorchester Reporter)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Vineyard Wind is moving to build the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm just south of Martha’s Vineyard. The $2.8-billion project is expected to produce 500 jobs, provide power to over 400,000 homes and businesses, and reduce carbon emissions by more than 1.6 million tons per year. (WBUR

You can now get marijuana delivered to your doorstep in Massachusetts. Two companies, one serving the Boston area and the other serving greater Northampton, launched home delivery of the drug last week. Nine more have been licenced to do so. (WBUR)

The Massachusetts unemployment rate dips below 5 percent. (State House News Service)

TRANSPORTATION

Beverly Airport will start operating flights to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, and could open for additional flights to New York City, Bar Harbor, or Providence in the future. (Salem News)

Experts say it is impossible to predict what commuter and traffic patterns will look like around Boston come September. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Mattapoisett Police Chief Mary Lyons was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol. (Boston Globe

Boston gangster Stephen Flemmi seeks compassionate release from prison. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

CNN is preparing to launch a streaming news service called CNN+. (CNN)