Early each year, I try to get a copy of one of my favorite books: The annual South Carolina Legislative Manual.
Most people have never seen a legislative manual, nor would they really want to. The book is basically a 600-page “Who’s Who” in state government: pictures and biographies of the 170 members of the legislature, along with the names of people who make up the boards and leadership positions of all state agencies, and lots of rules, regulations, and statutes covering various areas of government.
When you’re in the newspaper business, this directory comes in handy. There are times when we need to know who to call about a certain news story.
But, if you’re private citizen, it can also be useful. Say, for instance, you hear on the news about a legislator who gets stopped by the highway patrol, but refuses to get out of the car, and you want to see what that person looks like: Presto! The legislative manual. Or maybe a legislator who gets picked up for sleeping in the car by the side of the road because he/she was too drunk to drive any further. Presto again! The legislative manual. Or perhaps a legislator gets nailed for making harassing phone calls to his ex’s boyfriend. Bingo! The legislative manual. (Each of the cases named above, incidentally, are purely hypothetical. Any resemblance whatsoever to any actual legislator is purely coincidental.)
It’s a handy little book. But very few people are even aware this resource exists. And even fewer have ever called it “one of my favorite books”: I’m probably the only one. And it’s not because of the thousands of important names, the pictures and bios, or the hundreds of rules, regulations and statutes. It’s mostly because of the last 29 pages.
The last 29 pages are where they publish glossy color photographs of our official state symbols, along with write-ups telling why each one is so special.
When I was in grade school, we only had three state symbols: the state tree, the state bird, and the state flower. Those were the same three symbols that every state had.
I was proud of OUR state symbols. The Palmetto Tree had historical significance, because it helped thwart the British at Fort Moultrie. The Carolina Wren was special, because it had our state name in its name. And the Yellow Jessamine... well it reminded me of yellow honeysuckles, except they said it was actually sort of poison.
Although I didn’t study them in grade school, I later learned that we also had a state seal, which seems appropriate (in case we ever need to start printing our own money again); a state sword, which seems a little outdated to me, but I suppose it could come in handy in settling feuds between the House and the Senate; and the state mace. I have no idea what a mace is, or what its used for. I only know of its existence because once a few years ago it was lost or stolen or misplaced for a while, before being found or returned. (I’m guessing some intoxicated legislator remembered his wedding anniversary after all the stores had closed.)
Nowadays, we have a lot more Official State Symbols: 44 in all, according to the 2007 Legislative Manual. And some of them are real doozies.
By my count, we now have nine various official animals to go along with our state bird. The official “State Animal” is the whitetail deer... you know, like Bambi. (For some reason, it doesn’t seem right to pass a law designating one animal as our official state animal, then pass another law establishing a hunting season for that animal.)
Along with Bambi, we have the official State Fish, the striped bass; The State Wild Game Bird, the wild turkey; the State Reptile, the loggerhead sea turtle; the State Dog, the Boykin Spaniel; the State Insect, the Carolina Mantid; the State Butterfly, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; the State Amphibian, the Spotted Salamander; and the State Spider, the Carolina Wolf Spider.
I gotta be honest. They lost me somewhere between reptile and insect. These official state symbols just don’t do it for me the way the Palmetto Tree and the Carolina Wren did back in the third grade.
Let’s move on to rocks. We in South Carolina seem to be very proud of our rocks. We have three official ones: the State Stone: Blue Granite; the State Gem Stone, the amethyst; and the State Shell, the Lettered Olive.
I know a shell is not technically a rock, but it fits better in that category than the next one: Official State Foods and Beverages.
You’ll be happy to know that we have four. In a nutshell, they’re milk, tea, peaches and peanuts: The State Beverage, the State Hospitality Beverage, the State Fruit, and the State Snack, respectively.
After all that food and drink, you’ll want to burn off some calories. How about dancing? We have three different dances.
The State Dance is the Shag; the State American Folk Dance is the square dance; and the State Waltz is the Richardson Waltz.
Frankly, we have too many official state symbols to mention, but let me quickly try to run through a few more from the list: The State Lowcountry Handicraft – the sweetgrass basket; The State Tartan – the Carolina Tartan; the State Grass – Indian grass; The State Opera – Porgy and Bess; the State Tapestry –“From the Mountains to the Sea”; the State Rural Drama Theatre – Abbeville Opera House. There are a lot more, but I think you get the picture.
Here’s the best part: each and every one of these official symbols earned their designation because a bill was introduced, studied by a committee, passed both the House and Senate on three separate occasions by a majority vote, ratified, and signed into law by the Governor.
Do you think somebody ran for office on this platform? “Vote for me and I’ll make the Spotted Salamander our official State Amphibian.”
This year, the purchase price of the legislative manual went up from $5.00 to $8.00. But it’s still quite a bargain. Where else can you get that much entertainment for under ten bucks?