CONCORD, N.H. — Maine celebrates its Whoopie pies. North Carolinians proudly dance their Shag. In Kansas, even dirt is official: Harney silt loam is the state soil.
So was it really out of line when a group of fourth graders asked their lawmakers last month to make the red-tailed hawk New Hampshire’s state raptor?
Some legislators insisted on shooting down the kids’ hawk idea to show they had more important work to do, only to be labeled insensitive bullies.
“We already have a state bird. But now do we need a state raptor? Isn’t that a bird?” said Rep. Christy Bartlett, a Democrat from Concord who accused her colleagues of caving to the kids.
Also raising eyebrows was the lesson Republican Rep. Warren Groen gave the 9 and 10-year-olds, when he said the hawk would make a better mascot for Planned Parenthood, since it rips its prey apart “limb by limb.”
More than 70 more state symbols have been proposed across the 50 states this year, many proposed by students. They would name everything from the official Alaska state hostess (Miss Alaska, duh!) to Wyoming’s official legendary creature, the jackalope. (Alas, the jackalope passed the House but died in the Senate.)
Massachusetts alone is considering nine symbol bills this year, including an official form of tai chi.
Sometimes, the kids learn civics.
Sometimes, it’s the lawmakers who get schooled.
A third-grader’s effort to name the Columbian Mammoth as South Carolina’s official fossil got held up by several lawmakers who wanted to declare that God made mammoths on Day Six. She stuck to her scientific principles until the fossil was recognized without the creation language last year.
In Boise, 14-year-old Ilah Hickman lobbied since he was 9 on behalf of the Idaho Giant Salamander, only to be thwarted by lawmakers worried about protecting another species. The last doubters were outvoted last week, sending the bill to the governor for his signature.
New Hampshire already boasts — take a deep breath now — an official tree, bird, dog, animal, insect, amphibian, butterfly, saltwater fish, freshwater fish, rock, mineral, gem and tartan.
“We have to stop these and tell the teacher, ‘I know you want to mean well and you want to encourage your kids and you should, but you shouldn’t be taking up our precious time,’” said State Rep. John Burt. He hosts Hot Dog Day on the statehouse lawn to raise money for charity each year, and poked fun at himself by telling lawmakers they’d soon be picking an official state hot dog.
The raptor bill’s sponsor, Democrat Rep. Renny Cushing, later apologized to the students and teachers for his colleagues’ behavior.
“I told them it’s not always like this here … that we’re really not as mean and cranky as we were that day,” Cushing said.
New Hampshire’s symbol list is far from the lengthiest: Oklahoma has 45, including five state foods, including the state bean, black eyed peas; and six separate meals — among them, chicken-fried steak. The mammoth gave South Carolina 51.
Whose idea was this, anyway?
According to State Symbols USA, the naming game started when a “National Garland of Flowers” created for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair inspired states to adopt official floral emblems.
High school social studies teacher Dave Alcox sympathizes with the lawmakers. He teaches civic engagement, and says it’s vital to get young people involved, but these bills can take time, so he has kids invite lawmakers or the governor to speak to a class, or attend a forum with Supreme Court justices.
“You try to balance that ‘let’s have a teachable moment,’ versus ‘let’s not try to tie up too much time,’” he said.
New Hampshire’s lawmakers aren’t alone in trying to draw a line: Missouri is considering a bill to limit its symbols to 28.
That would sadden fans of “Jim The Wonder Dog,” a champion Llewellyn setter who was said to be able to pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby or World Series in the 1930s.
Yes, Missouri already has an official “historical dog,” Old Drum.
But it doesn’t have an official “Wonder Dog.”
And don’t give up on that raptor just yet: New Hampshire Democrat Jeff Woodburn says he’ll revisit the hawk’s nomination, when the Senate debates designating the bobcat as New Hampshire’s official wildcat.