Listen up, senator: Just leave well enough alone

Friday, May 4, 2012

A state senator from St. Louis County wants to replace the Show Me State, Missouri's time-honored slogan, with this: The Great Rivers State.

Let's hope he and his colleagues in the Missouri Legislature come to their senses before it's too late.

Cape Girardeans should be especially prickly about the proposed change. After all, it was a Cape Girardean who coined the "show me" moniker.

Willard Duncan Vandiver, the fifth president of what is now Southeast Missouri State University, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1896. During a political debate, Vandiver said this: "I am from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

Missourians -- at least the ones I know out of the 6 million or so -- are proud to be from the Show Me State. I'm sure they're rightfully proud of our many rivers, including two of the continent's mightiest, the Mississippi and the Missouri.

But why muck around with the state slogan -- a perfectly good one, and one that is favorably recognized throughout the nation and around the world -- just to call attention to rivers?

Missouri's rivers, after all, are cantankerous watersheds. They destroy or threaten to destroy thousands of homes and farms almost every spring. Just look what happened a year ago. Ask folks in Southeast Missouri and around St. Joseph if they think Missouri is the Great Rivers State.

States have taken to memorializing just about everything imaginable, from spiders to mastodons. There may even be some state slogans out there that need to be tweaked. Take Indiana's slogan, for example. It used to be Enjoy Indiana. That's pretty dull. So it was changed to Restart Your Engines, a reference to the Indianapolis 500. OK, that's a little better. There's still room for improvement.

Some slogans used by U.S. territories and federal districts have more bite. The District of Columbia: Taxation Without Representation. Take that, Congress!

I like Maine's slogan: Where America's Day Begins. I wouldn't want to mess with that. And as far as I know there are no state senators in Maine proposing to change it to something like "Where Cajuns Would Live If They Had Stayed Put."

No, state Sen. John Lamping, you've touched a nerve. It's akin to trying to legislate whether Missourians are from Missour-EE or Missour-UH. Missouri was divided during the Civil War. Let's not start that all over again.

If you want to honor Missouri's rivers, Senator Lamping, how about using your slogan for St. Louis County? The Great Rivers County is OK.

Or occupy your obviously plentiful slack time thinking of which of the state's cow patties ought to be legislatively memorialized with an official designation.

A few years ago, while younger son was living in Dublin, my wife and I rented a house on the Atlantic coast of County Donegal, where the road signs are in Gaelic. We walked to a golf course clubhouse down the road at the far end of Cruit Island. The club captain asked where we were from. Missouri, we said. "Oh, the Show Me State. A grand place. We loved our visit to Branson."

I don't think I could walk into a pub anywhere in Ireland and say I was from the Great Rivers State and expect anyone to know what the hell I was talking about.

I am proud to be a Missourian. I hope to be a Missourian until the day I die. If you're thinking about changing the state slogan, you better have a damn good reason. You're going to have to show me.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of Southeast Missourian.

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