October 18, 2021

Breckenridge: ‘It was never my intention to offend anyone’

HD29 Rep. criticized for posting picture of Thin Blue Line flag on Flag Day

Democrat Rep. Wes Breckenridge says the photo he posted of a Thin Blue Line flag and an American Flag on his property was not meant to offend anyone and that the banner often associated with the countermovement “Blue Lives Matter” is instead a symbol of his longtime support of law enforcement.

The photo was posted Monday, June 14 on both his Twitter and Facebook pages in observance of Flag Day. However, it was his Twitter post — with the caption: “Flag Day 2021! Celebrate the Stars and Stripes as well as all who have served to protect our freedoms!” — that provoked the most responses.

Some alleged Breckenridge had violated U.S. Flag Codes by flying both flags at the same height. But according to etiquette provided by FlagsUSA.com, other flags be may flown at the same height on separate poles so long as all other flags are never higher nor larger than the American Flag.

Others criticized the Democratic legislator for flying a hate symbol that has been adopted by white supremacists and used by a countermovement designed to suppress minorities. During the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, the flag was also seen alongside the rioters displaying Confederate flags and Trump flags.

“It was never my intention to offend anyone on flying the flags,” Breckenridge told Newton News in an interview a day after the photo was posted. “As most Jasper County residents know, I’m very patriotic and fly the Stars and Stripes in support of our veterans and all citizens.

“As a retired law enforcement and having family in law enforcement and having lost friends and family in law enforcement, I fly that flag proudly. I hear what they’re saying. I meant no offense by the flags or how they were flown. Just proud to fly those flags and support our veterans and our law enforcement. "

A few commenters compared the Thin Blue Line flag to Confederate, Nazi and Trump flags, which Breckenridge didn’t agree with.

“We can’t control what other people display or how they utilize symbols,” he said. “But I think we have to be cognizant of what some of the initial purposes were for, and recognize not everybody is using a symbol is using it for a negative reason.”

The National Police Association in 2019 said Thin Blue Line flag is not a symbol of racism, arguing instead that it is a symbol of honor and sacrifice. At the same time, Breckenridge said it is also important to be aware a symbol may be offensive to others.

“But in the same token I’d rather have a conversation and educate one another and communicate with one another on what that symbols mean to everyone, so they all have a good understanding of that and not make a perception this person is a certain way because of displaying that symbol,” Breckenridge added.

Breckenridge, who lives in Newton and represents Iowa House District 29, which covers most of Jasper County, acknowledged others might see the flag as inappropriate or disrespectful to people of color. If people knew his background, he said, they would understand the purpose and intent behind the post.

“I’m also somebody that fights for everybody’s rights and racial justice reform and really works hard at trying to pull our community together,” he said. “Again, it was meant to offend no one by flying that flag … I did not recognize how others had viewed that flag and was never meant to be offensive.”

This isn’t the first time Breckenridge has posted an image of the Thin Blue Line flag. On Jan. 9, 2021, he tweeted an image of the flag for National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. In it he thanked the men and women in law enforcement for their service.

On April 15, Breckenridge shared another stock image of the Thin Blue Line flag to share his thoughts about SF342, or what is commonly referred as the “back the blue” bill. In that post Breckenridge noted the bill passed the Iowa House of Representatives Chamber.

Breckenridge was one of two Democrats (the other being Kenan Judge of Iowa House District 44) who voted in favor of the bill. In his April post, Breckenridge touted the legislation amending workers compensation so an officer’s medical expenses and unpaid time isn’t offset against his or her retirement allowance.

SF342-Public Safety omnibus bill passes the House Chamber. This legislation amends workers compensation so ones medical...

Posted by Wes Breckenridge on Thursday, April 15, 2021

The bill also “ensures payment of medical expenses for disability retirement, sheriff salary parity in line with other local law enforcement administrators, adds assault by laser to code, increases criminal mischief and criminal harassment penalties, creates qualified immunity, creates study committee for Brady-Giglio, as well as other things,” he said.

However, Breckenridge also noted “a couple areas within the legislation” need to be worked on before it is signed into law by the governor. The legislator noted the harassment and criminal mischief sections in particular need language changes to prevent “unintended consequences.”

Breckenridge said in the post, “I have been (talking) with (Republicans) to work on these and a couple other fixes and am hopeful. I am disappointed we haven’t seen any of the legislative proposals that were put forth by the governor’s focus group or the Iowa Police Chief Association/NAACP equity task force this session.”

The bill also increases punishments of people convicted of rioting. Erin Murphy, the Des Moines Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises, reported for The Gazette in May that Democrats argued the legislation is likely to have a disparate impact on Black Iowans, which, according to a non-partisan survey, are disproportionately convicted of rioting.

Breckenridge was criticized for supporting SF342 in his Flag Day post. The legislator told Newton News there were “several factors” as to why he voted in favor of the bill. Breckenridge said he spoke with a Jasper County deputy about workers compensation and pension-related items, which made it into the bill.

“So that was one of the key things that I had worked on within that bill to help officers in that position,” he said. “… But there were some things I feel we still need to work on within the legislation, but there was other things in there that help law enforcement. We have to deal with the legislation that’s brought before us.”

The legislator lamented some amendments were not taken into consideration and said the concerns regarding Black Iowans being disproportionately affected by SF342 is a “valid point,” which is why he was “hoping we might have a more comprehensive piece of legislation go through that dealt with additional things.”

On Thursday, June 17, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed SF342 into law.

Breckenridge told Newton News he has no intention of taking down the flags, but that he is willing to speak with people regarding the post at wes.breckenridge@legis.iowa.gov or 641-521-6714.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.