Thursday, April 19, 2012

More on Wisconsin's state symbols.

Yesterday, I posted the story of how Wisconsin named the American Water Spaniel its official state dog.  Mordecai Lee, one of the players in that story, subsequently emailed me with his thoughts on the post.  I asked Professor Lee for permission to post his email on the blog and he graciously said yes.  I stress that Professor Lee emailed me directly rather than post on the blog.  I don't believe that Professor Lee intended that the email get published here. I think he was just trying to give me some more background for the post. As such, and for reasons that should be obvious, I am sure that Professor Lee is not seeking to have a debate with our Reader(s)™ about something that happened almost 30 years ago.   

In any event, Professor Lee wrote:
Great posting. haha Lots of fun to read.
You largely got the details right. Brought back memories of my years in the legislature (I left politics in '89), some good, some bad. But I remember this one vividly. And yes, I had a strict policy as committee chair not to report out any new symbols bills. When another committee reported out a bill to make the cranberry muffin the official state muffin, I introduced an amendment on the floor to make the ragamuffin the official state child and the egg Mcmuffin the official state breakfast. To my surprise and delight, the amendment was adopted, which killed the bill, of course.
Missing from the coverage of the dog story, I also said:
• if the intent of the activity was for the students to learn about how the legislative process worked, then killing the bill would be the most accurate lesson they could learn because only a small % of bills ever pass

• if we should pass any bill just because a grade school class originated it, what if they decide to lobby for, say, reinstating the death penalty? Would we be obligated to pass it because to do otherwise would break their hearts?

Keep up the good work.
With respect to Professor Lee's two bullet points, the second one seems spot-on and I considered making that point in the original post.  The hypothetical I was going to use was that the current Wisconsin Legislature would never pass and Wisconsin's governor would never sign a bill raising taxes simply because kids lobbied to raise taxes.

The first bullet point is also a fair point. Professor Lee's provides a good example of this with the defeat of the cranberry muffin bill.  The internet confirms Professor Lee's story about the cranberry muffin.    It is interesting to note that it was not just Professor Lee who was against the cranberry muffin bill.   According to this article from the Chicago Tribune, the bill passed the Assembly.  The article quotes then-Wisconsin Senator John Plewa as promising to "keep the bill buried in committee."  Senator Plewa also took the opportunity to engage in some wordplay by calling the bill "half-baked" and predicting that the bill was "certain to get bogged down in committee" (cranberries grow in bogs, get it?).  Senator Plewa's opposition to the cranberry muffin does not seem to have hurt his reputation in the eyes of Wisconsinites, as after he died a section of the Lake Parkway was named after him.

My own limited experience with legislation confirms this. In high school I participated in the YMCA's Youth in Goverment program. The highlight of the program year was the Model Youth Legislature where groups travelled to the capital and held a mock legislative session over the course of three days.  I was the senator representing the Oshkosh, Wisconsin area and sat in this guy's chair.  In any event, one of the things you learn at the model legislature is that very few bills make it out of committee for a vote by the full Senate or Assembly let alone pass and get presented to the governor to sign.  So Professor Lee's point that the students would have experienced the typical outcome if their bill had not become law rings true to me.

Further support for the points that few bills pass and that Wisconsin lawmakers are reluctant to make things official state symbols is found when one considers the fact that since the American Water Spaniel supporters got their bill signed into law in 1985 only three additional items have become symbols of Wisconsin.  Milk became the state beverage in 1987.  Corn became the state grain in 1989.  Lastly, the polka became the state dance in 1993.

While Wisconsin still lacks a state muffin, Minnesota made the blueberry muffin its state muffin in 1988.  I am not sure whether having a state muffin is better than not having one.  I am sure that Mr. May and Mr. Torvik now have a topic for the next blawg war

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