In April I mentioned my concern that if Illinois Senate Bill 690 passed, and the idea caught on elsewhere, it would be a disaster for my ongoing Official State Crap series. See “Official State Crap Alert: Bill Would Abolish Most Official State Crap” (Apr. 17, 2017). I can now report, however, that the danger has passed.
In fact, Illinois now has more official state crap than ever.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Rooney, says he isn’t opposed to the idea of state symbols, he just thinks that the more you create, the less special each one is, which tends to defeat the purpose. “In the whole 20th century,” he told me, “Illinois added 14 state symbols. In just the last sixteen years, we’ve added 13 more. And I still can’t see what makes these things important enough to add any at all.”
I’d mostly agree with that based on my review of the state’s existing official crap, although personally I would go to bat for the Tully Monster, which is pretty cool.
Sen. Rooney’s bill would have dethroned the Monster and many other official things, leaving Illinois with just the more common symbols like a state seal, flag, motto, and song. The bill did get a hearing, but did not make it out of committee. He said he didn’t really expect it to pass, but felt he had made his point that there are just too many state symbols these days, diluting the value of the symbols everyone generally agrees are important.
While he was explaining that, though, his colleagues were busy creating even more. No fewer than four bills were introduced during the session calling for yet more official state things, and all four passed by huge margins.
HB 470 designated corn as the official state grain of Illinois. It passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate 48-5. Hey, nobody’s got anything against corn! (Well, almost nobody.) Even though the state already has an official state vegetable.
HB 812 designated “shelter dogs and shelter cats that are residing in or have been adopted from a shelter or rescue facility in this State” the official state pet. This also passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate 44-5. If it helps get them adopted, I’m all for it, but once they’re adopted they should lose official status. If not, eventually Illinois is gonna be up to its official state ass in official state pets.
HB 2568 designated “the plant Asclepias spp, commonly known as ‘milkweed,'” as the official state wildflower. There was a little more opposition to milkweed, as this bill passed the House 101-8 and the Senate 45-8. Note: The “spp” is the plural for “species,” so apparently all 140+ milkweed species are now official Illinois milkweeds even though only a few of those are actually native to Illinois.
HB 2895 designated “cycling, the act of riding a bicycle for exercise,” as the official state exercise of the state of Illinois. Cycling, the act of riding a bicycle for exercise, was also pretty popular, passing the House 111-1 and the Senate 45-7. Does cycling, the act of riding a bicycle for exercise, have any special connection to Illinois? I don’t think so. But does it matter?
Then there was House Resolution 184, which didn’t create anything new but did declare the existing greatness of “Illinois,” the official state song of Illinois, and urged all state officials, colleges and universities to play said song at all official events and commencement exercises. The resolution has a bunch of the usual “whereas” clauses explaining its purpose, and somebody really dug deep into the archives for this one:
How many states can claim that a future president once congratulated their state song’s composer at a reunion of the Army of the Potomac? Probably the same number that have an official state exercise, that’s how many.
Well, obviously people can disagree about the importance of state symbols, and about how many a state should have. For selfish reasons, I’m glad the tradition is going to continue, but Sen. Rooney does have a point. Maybe keep the number under three dozen or so?