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Front Page - Friday, February 22, 2019

State’s Official Waste of Time? Naming favorites

The issue before the House subcommittee was whether the annual Robert Spicer Memorial Buck Dance Championship in Dickson County should become the official buck dancing competition of the State of Tennessee.

Discussion was brief.

“Is buck dancing and clogging the same thing?” Rep. Mark White asked.

“I think so,” said the sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Mary Littleton.

There being no further questions, a unanimous voice vote then sent the measure one step closer to joining Tennessee’s ever-growing list of official state this, that and the others.

If other legislators have their way, the list will also expand to include the bluetick coonhound as the official state dog.

The bluetick resolution is silent as to the reason that particular breed is deserving of state commemoration, other than the standard closing explanation of “the public welfare requiring it.”

The American Kennel Club advises, “The droopy-eared charm of blueticks is irresistible.” So, there’s that, I guess.

And perhaps it’s entirely coincidental that a bluetick named Smokey is the mascot of the University of Tennessee Vols.

In any event, you might be wondering a couple of things at this point.

1. Doesn’t the state already have an official dog?

Surprisingly, no. The official state pet is any dog or cat adopted from Tennessee animal shelters and rescues, but that’s as close as it comes. Unless you consider a raccoon (official state wild animal) close to a dog.

2. Don’t legislators have more important things to do than bestowing recognition on folk-dancing competitions and canine breeds?

Normally I’m inclined to believe any matter distracting legislators from doing real damage is a blessing. But we should never underestimate their ability to commit mischief even by trivial means.

Remember, for example, that it took a veto from Gov. Bill Haslam in 2016 to derail the legislative effort to designate the Bible as Tennessee’s official state book.

Going further back in time we find the shameful incident of the state flower. Tennessee schoolchildren voted for the passionflower, also known as the maypop, in 1919. The legislature duly codified the preference.

But in 1933, an iris cabal prevailed on legislators to get its own choice named state flower, in the process trampling on the schoolchildren’s wishes. It took 40 years for lawmakers to address the confusion by designating passionflower the state wildflower, and iris the state cultivated flower.

Further complicating things, lawmakers ratified yet another official state wildflower in 2012, the Tennessee echinacea. It’s a wonder we’ve survived the chaos.

Speaking of chaos, did I mention we have seven state songs? Plus, a 97th General Assembly song, a public school song, a bicentennial rap song, a bicentennial school song, a U.S. bicentennial song and a U.S. bicentennial march song.

On that unharmonious note, I also wonder if another of this year’s proposals doesn’t have the possibility of bitterly dividing the state along musical lines.

That measure, House Bill 251 and its Senate companion, directs the secretary of state to “conduct an online poll to determine which Tennessee recording artist should be nominated for designation as the official state recording artist.”

Contenders must live in the state or have lived here for five years; have recorded music here; and have “made significant contributions to the world of music evidenced by awards, number of hit songs, number of records sold, or by influence on other recording artists.”

He or she need not be currently among the living.

As a hybrid Mississippian/Tennessean, I suggest the obvious choice is another of my kind: Elvis. I also respect that a solid case could be made for Johnny Cash, whom I consider a worthy runner-up. Dolly? Beyond that, the drop-off is steep.

But consider, as I have, the possibility of that online poll for official state recording artist being hijacked by a horde of social-media-savvy Generation Z  zealots. I leave you with two words of caution:

Taylor Swift.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com