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Friday
Feb181994

Longer isn't better when it comes to state mottos

Each year, there’s always a convincing argument the Iowa Legislature should meet less often.

Last year, they threatened to change our state official symbols until a large cadre of constituents traveled to Des Moines and threatened to pelt them with geodes — the state official rock. (There really wasn’t anyone with geodes, but it would make a great scene full of symbolism and emotion in a made-for-TV movie about the event.)

Iowans are reaching for their geodes again this year. That’s because Rep. Charles Hurley, R-Fayette, has proposed amending the state official motto: “Two girls for every boy.” He wants it to read: “Two girls for every boy and vice versa.”

Oops, I’m sorry, that’s the motto of Surf City, with which I often confuse Iowa.

Hurley has proposed adding onto Iowa’s current 147-year-old-and-never-altered motto: “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain,” with “and our responsibilities we will fulfill.”

Iowans need 60 percent more words in the motto, Hurley says, to be reminded they have personal, family and civic responsibilities to uphold.

“I just think responsibility is a crying need of our era,” he says.

Hurley is accomplishing the opposite of what he’s setting out to do. He means to show his patriotism and love for Iowa. But in his devotion, he’s screwing around with our heritage and angering those among us in the geode brigade. He’s also, ironically, shirking his responsibilities as a legislator by wasting his taxpayer-funded time with a largely meaningless proposal.

Hurley’s suggestion is nice. But no one is likely to pay attention to the motto. I don’t prize my liberties any more because my motto tells me to. I don’t think of the maintenance of my rights any more because of it either. (In the same way, as I’m drinking a can of Diet Pepsi, it never comes to my mind that “I got the right one, baby. Uh-huh!”)  

If Hurley’s suggestion passes, in a few years Iowans won’t only need to be reminded of their responsibilities, they’ll need to be reminded Iowa has a state motto.

The only thing Hurley’s suggestion will do is further burden the eagle carrying the banner on which the motto is inscribed. The newly lengthened motto banner will become entangled in that guy holding the flag in the Great Seal of the State of Iowa. He will stumble around trying to get free and absent-mindedly step on the rake to his right, boinking himself in the head with the handle. 

Which, come to think of it, would be pretty cool.

So maybe I’m having a change of heart. Maybe I can go with Hurley on this one. And heck, why stop with six new motto words? Let’s really weigh down that eagle with a motto that will remind us not only of our personal responsibilities, but other important stuff we need to know. I suggest:

“Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain and our responsibilities we will fulfill and our relationships we will not take for granted but constantly strive to work on and improve and our feelings we will not be afraid to express openly and our teeth we will brush after every meal and our right turns we will take at red lights only after coming to a complete stop and our pants we will pull on one leg at a time and our parents and relatives we will visit more often and our credit card balances we will pay in full each month thereby avoiding interest payments and our milk containers we will not return to the refrigerator when there is less than a swallow left and our diets we will keep well-balanced eating plenty of vegetables and fruits and staying away from food that gets too large a percentage of its calories from fat and our authors who write wildly successful books of fiction we will belittle and our large or unusual vegetables we will take into newspaper offices forcing reporters and photographers against their better judgment to record for posterity and our newspaper columns will be well thought-out treatises of opinion and not dominated by one long sentence and our lungs we will expand and contract every few seconds to keep breathing and our mottos we will devise to tell us things we really don’t need to be reminded of and our legislators we will make merciless fun of and our free time in the Statehouse we will fill drafting largely meaningless legislation like unnecessarily lengthening the state motto.”

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