Symbols are important, especially in government.
But 28 of them?
Missouri isn’t just the Show-Me State. According to state law, it’s also the flowering dogwood state, the honeybee state, the ice cream cone state and the “Missouri Waltz” state.
But a pending bill, sponsored by state Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, would limit Missouri’s official state symbols to the current 28 — and not one animal, mineral, plant, insect, fossil or flower more.
In animals alone, Missouri is a virtual Noah’s Ark of official state creatures. In addition to its “state animal,” the Missouri mule, it also has a state horse (the Missouri foxtrotting horse), reptile (the three-toed box turtle), amphibian (the American bullfrog), invertebrate (the crayfish), bird (the bluebird), game bird (the bobwhite quail), fish (the channel catfish) and a state “aquatic animal” (the paddlefish — which, of course, is also a fish).
It also has an official state tree, state insect, state fossil, state dessert, state song and — the latest, approved last year — state exercise (the jumping jack).
“We could probably come up with many, many more,” Flanigan told the website MissouriNet this week. “However, you diminish the ones you’ve already decided were state symbols.”
In fact, Missouri has more official symbols than its more-populous neighbor, Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln” — and also the land of salamanders, bluegills, fluorite and popcorn, based on its own list of official symbols.
Neither state is alone. “Got milk? At least 17 states do — as their official state beverage or drink,” the National Conference of State Legislatures reports.
It found that every state has official designations of some kind, with flowers being the most common. Iowa had the fewest official symbols, with eight; Massachusetts had the most, with 44 (state dog, state cat, state doughnut, state muffin …).
Neither Missouri nor Illinois is among the official “milk” states. But the state legislatures group notes Missouri’s unusual offering of “state grape” (The Norton/Cynthiana grape), which is used in the state’s winemaking industry.
And it gently raises the question of whether such bills take attention away from more serious matters, as Flanigan suggests.
How does this happen? Generally, a lawmaker sponsors a bill at the behest of some constituent or interest group demanding that the proper respect finally be given to fiddles, or square dancing, or Eastern Black Walnuts, or the mineral mozarkite. All of which are now official symbols on Missouri’s books.
This year, legislators are pondering bills that would make “Jim the Wonder Dog” Missouri’s state Wonder Dog, and the white-tailed deer the state game animal.
There’s no real cost to these official declarations, beyond legislators’ time — something most Missourians wouldn’t categorize as a vital state resource.
And that, says Flanigan, is the point.
“What they really hear about are things like jumping jacks or the ice cream cone or things of that nature, and that’s what they think we do all day,” Flanigan told MissouriNet Monday, “which obviously is not the case and those really only took up small portions of the legislative day.”
Flanigan was traveling during this week’s legislative break and was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Flanigan’s bill is awaiting a first vote in the House.