NEW YORK — When Rep. John Tierney, R-N.J., suggested that the nickname of the New Jersey state flag should be changed to a flag that features an eagle, he was not alone.
His fellow Republicans in the Legislature and across the country said no.
In his view, the eagle is too “offensive,” and they were reluctant to even consider changing the flag.
So Tierney said he would consider changing it to a flying American flag that he hoped would be more culturally sensitive.
But he didn’t expect to be greeted with the kind of derision that greeted him when he proposed his idea in 2013.
He and a group of fellow Republicans were among a group in New Jersey that argued against the nickname change for a bill that would have removed the words “We the People” from the state flag.
Tierney and a few colleagues came to see the bill, but they didn’t agree with his bill, which passed the Assembly with a narrow margin of victory in June 2014.
Afterward, the House voted against the proposal.
The state flag is a representation of the United States flag with the words in blue, white and red.
Tierneys bill, now referred to as the “Eagle Bill,” would have changed the state motto from “America the Beautiful” to “America, America, America.”
The bill failed to gain traction in the Senate, and the next year the House never debated it.
But Tierney says he thought he’d succeeded because it was so simple.
“The people of New Jersey wanted it,” Tierney told The Wall St. Journal in an interview this week.
“So I thought I’d just go ahead and get it done.”
The Eagle Bill was the product of an effort by Tierney’s Democratic counterpart, Assemblyman Bill DeGuerin, to introduce a bill to remove the “We The People” phrase from the New York state flag and replace it with the phrase “We America the Beautiful.”
The phrase is part of the U.S. flag’s traditional depiction of the Founding Fathers.
But many New Yorkers, including Tierney who is white, found the phrase offensive.
Tiernan and his colleagues say the phrase has been used by a lot of people in New York City and New Jersey, including the governor and the mayor, to refer to each other and their neighbors.
But it was not always so.
In a 2013 editorial in the Atlantic, Tierney noted that a New York woman had been asked to write a letter on her way to the DMV after someone threw a glass of water at her vehicle.
The woman, who was not named in the editorial, told The Atlantic she had been confronted by two women who had asked her, “Is this the best we can do?”
Tierney pointed out that the phrase had been used before in the state.
“This was just a random thing,” Tiernan said.
“It was just one of those things that happened on the street, in the street.”
Tierney is a lawyer by training and a former lobbyist.
He served on the New Brunswick Republican Party board from 2009 to 2011, where he was chairman of the State and Local Policy Committee.
He was the chairman of a legislative panel that helped draft a law that allowed for the state to rename a highway named after the late Senator John F. Kennedy.
“My job was to protect the state, and I always did that,” Tierneys political director, Josh Shackelford, told the Journal.
Shackelfford, who did not work for the Republican Party, said Tierney was “very respectful of other people’s opinions.”
But he said Tierneys “categorically rejected” his proposal.
“He was not a Democrat or a Republican,” Shackeefford said.
He added that Tierney “has a very good record on the issues” he introduced.
Shakkelffords campaign also was not aware of the Eagle Bill, Shackeford said, but that “we were supportive of his efforts.”
Tierneys office declined to comment.
But his colleagues at the Statehouse have said the Eagle Amendment, which Tierney helped draft in 2014, “wasn’t a big deal.”
Tiernan, who is not an Eagle, was not the only lawmaker to have a tough time in his push to change New Jersey’s state flag this year.
Rep. Tom MacArthur, R of Monmouth, proposed an amendment to the state constitution that would allow the legislature to change any existing state flag if it deemed it “inappropriate.”
The proposal failed, with only the governor’s signature.
In an interview with the Journal, Tiernan called the Eagle bill “the dumbest thing that I’ve ever seen.”
He said it was “kind of like the elephant in the room” for him in the House.
Tiernney said the proposed changes were “a big mistake.”
“I’m sure some of you have been around the state for