By JAY MILLER
SANTA FE -- We already know what the New Mexico quarter will look like. And that's before the New Mexico Coin Commission makes its choice, which then has to be approved by Gov. Bill Richardson, the mint director and the U.S. treasury secretary.
It's because all four choices are basically the same -- a Zia sun symbol atop an outline of our state. Sounds pretty unimaginative for a creative state like New Mexico, but the Coin Commission, appointed by Gov. Richardson, is a well-qualified group that knows its stuff.
Since New Mexico was the 47th state to enter the union, we are in the final group of five to see our quarter go into circulation. The release will be next year.
The long wait has enabled us to watch the mistakes of other states. Most of them considered it an exercise in squeezing their state flower, bird, tree, fish, insect and reptile into a circle less than an inch in diameter. Except for a few that stuck to one subject, the rest were a mess.
So our commission decided on doing something simple, strong and distinctive. My choice was a rocket, since New Mexico was the birthplace of rocketry, with Goddard's experiments in the '30s, White Sands Missile Range beginning in the '40s and now hosting the cradle of commercial passenger space flights.
Rocket science says we're hooked into the future. So does nuclear physics, but a mushroom cloud isn't the right image. Neither is a space alien, although every kid in America would be pestering to take the next family vacation to Roswell. And kids are the ones with quarters in their pockets.
So the commission decided the best image is the Zia, which appears on our state flag, highway signs, license plates, brochures, letterheads and anywhere else it can be inserted.
The simple Zia symbol is probably a good idea. Two years ago the American Vexillology Association named New Mexico's flag the best in the nation. If the numismatists have an association, our quarter just might win.
The message we deliver with our widespread use of the Zia symbol is that our Indian culture is the way we are and should continue to be identified.
That's not bad. Every state has Indians in its history, but New Mexico is the only state in which the Indian culture has remained strong throughout our history.
It also serves to validate the Zia Pueblo's contention that the state of New Mexico should compensate it for use of its symbol. I wasn't too hot on the idea when it first was proposed years ago but it seems the state has settled on the Zia as our official logo or maybe even our brand.
In an interesting move, the Coin Commission selected only different versions of the Zia as its four choices to present to the mint engravers for rendition, thus assuring that the Zia will be on the New Mexico quarter.
Each state had a choice of how it wanted to select a design. Some states left the final vote to all residents. New Mexico started with suggestions of residents and then appointed a commission to narrow the suggestions.
The choice of four versions of the Zia indicates the commission may not have given much consideration to other alternatives. And had New Mexicans had the final vote, their choice may not have been the Zia symbol.
Governor Richardson evidently is going along with his commission. His first comments on what he desired for our quarter were that it should be representative of the wide diversity of our state, similar to the float the state entered in last year's Rose Parade.
We will end up with just the opposite. And that probably is best, now that we've had a look at the clutter on other state's coins.
And as long as we're going with the Zia, I recommend the most prominent Zia symbol among the four choices.
We need to be proud of what we've done.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) firstname.lastname@example.org