Callaghan: If George liked green, yellow and blue, why can't we?

By Peter Callaghan, Columbian Syndicated Columnist


photoPeter Callaghan covers the state Legislature for The News Tribune in Tacoma. Blog:; or Twitter: @CallaghanPeter. Reach him at

I'm a stickler for decorum and consistency, even when it comes to such details as logos. For example, I don't care how much money sports teams can make with different hats and uniform colors. I demand they never vary from what is official. A pink Yankees hat? The Babe would not be pleased.

So I'm becoming increasingly disturbed by the scourge of politicians deciding the good old Washington State Seal isn't good enough for them. We now have Logos-R-Us in which anybody with a computer program can slap any color they want behind George Washington.

Nothing in state law prohibits this. The state flag has legal restrictions for size and color. For example, if you have a 4-foot by 6-foot flag, the seal must be centered, 25 inches in diameter, and appear on both the front and back. As to colors, the background must be Irish green, the field behind George's head must be Oriental blue and the color behind the words "The Seal Of The State Of Washington 1889" must be Spanish yellow. By law, our first president's face must be eggshell white, and the whole thing must be tinted with "colorfast washable dyes," because these colors don't run.

The state seal, though heavily regulated as to use, doesn't have color requirements. Maybe that's because its primary use is to authenticate official documents — something done with a gold sticker embossed with a 100-year-old press. The regulations, though, anticipate that it will be used for other official purposes by elected officials and agencies, including on letterhead and publications. Those have usually been in blue and yellow, like the flag.

Then came last January when Gov. Jay Inslee's office decided a new backdrop was needed for the new governor. The staff produced a giant seal of blue and white as a backdrop for press conferences. No yellow. No green. And I'm pretty sure that's not Oriental blue.

When I complained, the staff said it wasn't a flag but a banner so is not covered by the rules. They also said something about my having way too much time on my hands.

Not to be outdone, the Senate's Majority Coalition Caucus this year created its own flavor of the seal — this one with George in front of a dark brown field with the seal placed on a lighter brown background. Perhaps this is a prototype for the seal of the State of EASTERN Washington, but not of the Evergreen State.

Sign of disrespect

This has to stop. So I went to the website of Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who has a statutory role as the custodian of the state seal. I was shocked to see that her website features a black-and-white seal — I guess to save money on Internet color ink, which is laudable given the state's budget problems.

Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro was the custodian of the state seal for 20 years and always kept it clean and well-vacuumed. He said that while the seal is required in the state constitution, by the mid-1960s there were so many versions that then-Secretary of State Ludlow Kramer asked that a law be passed to settle things.

That also helped standardize the flag for manufacturers, a problem that came to light after the state received a shipment that changed Washington's race to black.

Munro's contribution was his aggressive enforcement of rules against unauthorized commercial use of the seal. His epiphany came when he was at Capitol Lake and saw a woman running while wearing skimpy green shorts with the state seal emblazoned across the seat.

Such disrespect had to be halted, Munro decided. And it was. Well, not halted but regulated. The state now has deals with private suppliers who put the seal on items such as glass wear, lapel pins, coffee mugs and neckties. You know, just the classy stuff.

I have a pair of those running shorts. And they are indeed disrespectful — especially on me. They do, however, have one thing going for them. They use the correct colors.