How do Texans have an official state flower, state song, and state waterlily? It’s all due to the same, though less complex and controversial, legislative process used for education funding, property tax reform, and other transcendent political issues.
An elected state representative or senator formally drafts and files a resolution or, more rarely, a bill to propose an official state symbol. It is then accepted and assigned to a legislative committee. The committee holds hearings on the proposal and votes to forward it to a different committee for posting on legislative calendars. Based on that vote, it may or may not reach the floor of the House or Senate. If it does, a vote is taken. If both branches approve, it goes to the Governor of Texas for their signature. The process is the same for official capital designations, as in Glen Rose’s title of “Dinosaur Capital of Texas.”
Unsurprisingly, splitting time at the Capitol on critical legislation with such matters as state symbols has its detractors, according to Ken Herman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and legislative correspondent for the Associated Press, Houston Post, and Austin American-Statesman. “An oft-heard quote about these resolutions: ‘These jokers have time to designate an official fill in the blank, but they don’t have time to solve fill in vexing problem du jour,’” Herman says. “Fact is, though the regular sessions are only 140 days every two years, there is always plenty of time to pass anything that has the requisite votes. The time it takes to designate an Official Mermaid Capital of Texas does not hamper efforts to pass important legislation.”
Normally, a proposal for adding to the list of Texas’ official state symbols is smooth sailing, though that wasn’t the case with the first one in 1901—the state flower. Proponents pushed the cotton boll because of its commercial importance, and a young legislator named John Nance Garner from Uvalde argued for the prickly pear, inspiring his nickname of “Cactus Jack.” Our official state flower, the bluebonnet, prevailed after the National Society of Colonial Dames of America entered legislative chambers with floral arrangements and bluebonnet paintings.
Legislative deadlines can present another obstacle. “It is possible for a measure that has the required votes for approval to fail as time runs out,” Herman says. “This can happen if it runs into end-of-session deadlines that make it subject to a point of order.”
The clock may have run out in 2021 when Dr Pepper was in the running to be the official state soft drink. Proposed as a bill and not a resolution, House Bill 4554 had nine Republicans and two Democrats as co-sponsors. Unlike resolutions that carry lengthy supporting language, HB4554 simply added a section to the state Government Code that declared: “The state soft drink is Dr Pepper.” Making its way much further than many others among the 6,919 bills filed in 2021, it was successfully reported out of the House’s Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee by unanimous vote and placed on the General State Calendar in early May. Unfortunately for fans of the Texas-born beverage who signed petitions supporting Dr Pepper’s official designation, no further action was taken before adjournment on May 31.