When tax revenues are down, state legislators can feel marginalized, even redundant. Unable to fund -- hence debate, manipulate and gerrymander -- pet projects, they retreat to committee rooms or watering holes to wait for the economy to recover. In their quest for relevance, they resort to busy work that carries little budget impact -- designating state symbols, for instance. Like school mascots, these creatures, plants, anthems and mottos serve as state branding intended to differentiate and to inspire civic pride.
A few weeks ago the folks in the South Carolina statehouse, lacking a meaningful agenda, ordained a state vegetable. No, not the Appalachian trail-hiking former governor Mark Sanford -- rather, the long-overlooked collard green. Who would fault those dedicated Palmetto State solons for filling this aching void? In March legislators in Utah, expanding the concept arguably beyond the spirit of fanciful symbolism, became the first to designate a state gun -- for the record, the Browning M1911 semiautomatic. A month later Arizonans (state motto "God Enriches"), loathe to be bested by their brethren to the north in matters of opprobrium, dubbed the Colt 45 their official state firearm.
What, exactly, does having an emblematic handgun mean in practice? Is it just an unabashed nod to Second Amendment zealots, or is it a clever new revenue source via promotional considerations? Would it ever act as an enticement for vacationers? "Hey, hon, let's take the kids and go to Utah this year? We can tour the canyonlands, then head up to Salt Lake and if the lines aren't too long maybe get a look at their official state sidearm!"
We'll assume for now it's just harmless state intramurals, but to ensure we aren't left behind, our lawmakers need to identify some heretofore unheralded Colorado attributes and raise them to state-symbol status. We already have a state mineral, the visually-attractive if cryptically-named rhodochrosite, but let's take that to the next level. What's a mere flashy pistol when placed alongside the official Colorado Element of Mass Destruction: Plutonium. Gasp if you will, but from 1952 until the collapse of the Soviet Union decimated the market, the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant located sixteen miles upwind of Denver produced more PU-238 than probably any other place in the world. That it was fuel for potential global annihilation (think nuclear deterrence) notwithstanding, it provided jobs and economic security for the region for forty years. And that didn't end with the closing of the plant. The subsequent EPA cleanup, euphemistically tagged "remediation," continued to provide employment through 2005.
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To acknowledge those hardy cattle ranchers who brave our sub-freezing weather in late January to attend the National Western Stock Show, we need to designate an official state source of protein: beef. True, it does reinforce that unbecoming Denver moniker, "cowtown," but we must keep in mind the positive economic impact at a time of year when few others are looking for a reason get de-iced at DIA.
What is our glorious state's most distinctive feature? The mountains, of course. Colorado has the highest average elevation (6,800 feet) of any state. We need to nourish this distinction with the official Colorado Geological Feature: altitude. Let's face it, without 14ers, a ski industry, Glenwood Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado would be just a drier version of Kansas (state song: "Home on the Range"). Our professional athletes, conditioned to 5,000 feet, enjoy a built-in advantage over visiting players who find themselves wheezing for oxygen. Golf balls fly further; solar panels work better. Colorado's altitude needs to be elevated to its proper eminence.
One of the state's more recent distinctions was the legalization of medical marijuana, which created a new cottage industry of dispensaries -- and then the legislature added to the cash crop by requiring that they grow at least 70 percent of their products. MMJ produces millions of dollars a year in tax revenues and frees up law enforcement officials to pursue more pressing issues. We are no longer supporting lawless third-world regimes and...oh, by the way, we are providing relief to pain sufferers who previously were limited to over-the-counter products such as aspirin. We must take advantage of this unique accomplishment by naming pot the Colorado Medicinal Herb.
Following the lead of our Four Corners neighbors, there are plenty of other iconic Colorado products and services available for state branding: ski lifts, mountain bikes, trail mix and -- to honor the pioneering work of our new governor -- how about an official state brewpub? Why stop at symbols and mascots? Read Patricia Calhoun's "Top 7 Ways to Improve Colorado Tourism."