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State Thing bills are back again

I always tell myself it’s the last time I will write about State Things, but something always comes along to return me to the topic.

Truth to tell, I love writing about them.

This time it’s a bill in the Missouri Legislature calling for a cap on the naming of State Things, introduced by Rep. Tom Flanigan, a Republican from Jasper County. Missouri has an official state ice cream cone, an official state dinosaur, and 25 other State Things, and he thinks that’s enough. He has introduced a measure to limit State Things to 28.

This prompted one reader commenter on a Springfield website to call for making number 28 the designation of Rep. Flanigan as the official state crabby person. Besides, his State Things bill may be useful in distracting attention from his efforts to lay off many of the legislature’s employees.

Missouri is currently considering measures to declare a state dog and a state wonder dog, whatever that is.

Nevada doesn’t have a state dinosaur, but we do have a state fossil – the ichthyosaur. I recall that when that designation was enacted by the legislature, there were those who said that better candidates could be found in the front row of the Nevada Senate.

At the moment, the Nevada Legislature is considering Assembly Bill 123, introduced by Assemblymember Robin Titus. It would designate square dancing as the official dance of the State of Nevada. The measure claims square dancing is “a form of American folk dance which is called, cued or prompted to its participants, and includes variations such as rounds, squares, contras, clogging, line, heritage and modern western square dance.”

The bill has already passed the Assembly and is now in the Senate awaiting action.

It should be noted that square dancing is already the state dance of Missouri, where Rep. Flanigan operates, and of our neighbor Utah. In fact, it is the official dance of at least 30 states, which will certainly make Nevada feel special if the bill passes. (Speaking of Utah, New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who shares my love of stories about State Things, has reported that Utah also has an official state cooking pot, the Dutch oven.)

In Reno, libertarian columnist Brendan Trainor opined, “Ninety-­five percent of Nevadans live in cities. Rural Nevada loves to dance, but really – how many square dances are there on a Friday night in Nevada, compared to other forms of dancing? Even Western line dancing is more popular than do-­si­-do­ing. Historically, did Nevada invent square dancing? Hardly. The dance we did invent was the topless chorus line. … You might object that bare-­breasted women prancing around on a stage is too choreographed. You want something more spontaneous. Then I would suggest that any time of day or night, in many establishments throughout our great state, there are more people—mostly women—pole dancing than square dancing. Perhaps the Legislature should proclaim pole dancing, or its closely related cousin, lap dancing, to be our Nevada State Dance. We need a debate!”

Trainor does have one very good point. This bill is the latest reflection of the notion that the small counties reflect the “real” Nevada, a dubious idea often rejected by voters.

Meanwhile, in China the General Administration of Sport and Ministry of Culture has announced plans to regulate outdoor square dancing, which enabled KNPR in Las Vegas to use the website headline “Do­Si­Don’t.” I keep wondering why indoor square dancing is unregulated, and what is so Western about square dancing if the Chinese do it.

Many of these State Thing bills are introduced in the legislature because teachers coax their students into adopting them as class projects. A couple of decades ago, a class came to Carson City seeking to have the bristlecone pine named the Nevada state tree. The class had neglected to do its homework – Nevada already HAD a state tree, the pinon pine.

I thought it was a great opportunity for the legislators to give the students a true lesson in democracy, including the fact that defeat and disappointment can be part of political life, by defeating the bill because of the lack of preparation by the students.

But the legislators were too cowardly to do that, so Nevada now has two official state trees.

Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.

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