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Front Page - Friday, March 15, 2019

Proposed state honor needs a name, preferably not ‘Pioneer’

The sponsor, Rep. David Hawk, readily admits that his proposal is not necessarily the most important matter facing Tennessee legislators this year.

“But this is an issue that I think our legislature can have a little fun with,” he told me the other day, “and recognize some good folks at the same time.”

Count me in. As I’ve said before, I’m all for anything that distracts lawmakers from committing legislative mayhem.

The bill as written would create the designation of Tennessee Pioneer, which could be conferred upon a deserving person or group by majority vote of House or Senate members.

If it sounds a bit short on details, it is.

“The legislation right now is just very generic and very vanilla,” Hawk says. It anticipates parameters for the honor would be established by House and Senate rules, if the basic notion gains traction.

And while it has prompted some discussion, it’s also run into minor resistance. A couple of House members balked slightly at the signature term when Hawk first presented it to a House subcommittee.

“Usually when you hear the name ‘Pioneer’ you think it’s the first who did something,” one member said. Another suggested it would be a good idea to “wordsmith that.”

Hawk says he drew the name from Tennessee’s historical role as part of the new American frontier, and “‘frontiersman’ sounded a little too long.” Plus, in this gender-inclusive age, you’d probably have to call it “Frontiersperson.”

In any event, Hawk told the subcommittee, “We’re wide open in terms of names for this.”

That’s pretty much where things stand now, with the bill taken off notice and Hawk continuing to gather information and invite discussion.

He notes that the governor’s office offers various honors, including Colonel Aide de Camp, Tennessee Ambassador of Goodwill and Honorary Tennessean.

And bestowing tributes would be nothing new for the legislature. Every year, a large number of commendations sail through both houses, commemorating accomplishments like advanced birthdays, notable retirements and deaths, and school athletic successes.

Tennessee Pioneers could be something like that, Hawk continued, while also potentially becoming something more. Like maybe with a nonprofit organization connected to it for the doing of good deeds, after the fashion of Kentucky Colonels – a designation that, as it happens, Hawk holds.

“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel,” he adds, “if there’s already something out there that we can model ourselves after.”

My own research turned up two somewhat similar distinctions offered by nearby states.

North Carolina has the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, which its website says is “awarded to persons for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina.”

South Carolina has its Order of the Palmetto, which similarly “recognizes a person’s lifetime achievements and contributions to the State of South Carolina.”

Each is named for the respective official state tree. I wouldn’t suggest Tennessee follow suit on that for a name. For one thing, we (no surprise) have two state trees: a generic one, tulip poplar; and an evergreen, Eastern red cedar.

No offense to tree lovers, but neither one exactly shouts “Tennessee.”

Instead, I’d like to see something that takes advantage of my favorite Tennessee emblem, the circle of three stars on the state flag representing the state’s three Grand Divisions: East, Middle and West.

Granted, there’s a problem incorporating that name in an honor: Order of the Tristar sounds like a fan club devoted to a communications satellite.

Plus, the Tristar (or TriStar) name has already been taken by a health system and a gun maker (rather conflicting concerns, in my view).

But it would have the advantage of making for a dandy decoration on the suitable-for-framing certificate Hawk also envisions, as well as a handsome lapel pin. So maybe something could be worked out.

Tennessee Stars?

Just a thought. Hawk is open to yours: rep.david.hawk@capitol.tn.gov.

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.