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Spin Control: Marmots help legislators lighten up

SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 2009, 7:46 A.M.

Things are bleak if one is around government. The economy is bad, revenues are down, deficits loom.

But not everything is about chopping programs and slashing budgets. Take the Legislature (cue the Henny Youngman “Please” joke), where the honorables are moving with all deliberate speed to name the state’s official endemic mammal.

Up for the honor is the Olympic marmot, which is the favorite critter of at least one special interest group, the fourth- and fifth-graders at Wedgwood Elementary School in Seattle. As part of a section on how state government works, students in Kelly Clark’s fourth-grade class last spring proposed a bill honoring the rodent, which is found only on the peninsula, with official state-ness.

Classes have proposed bills for years, Clark said – everything from requiring school buses to have seat belts to banning cell phones for drivers or making physical education a daily requirement through eighth grade. But the marmot bill was the first to gain traction.

They sent it to their senator, Ken Jacobsen, near the end of last year’s session, and he sent it back in official “bill” language. The session ended and the school year ended, but Clark’s new fourth-grade class took up the task this year, e-mailing legislators, lobbying committee members and … it passed the Senate 43-4. (Yes, Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, was a marmot naysayer, but that’s probably not personal. McCaslin votes no on most things.)

Last week several students testified at the House Government and Tribal Affairs hearing. Friday the bill got through the House Rules Committee and was scurrying toward a floor vote like, well, a marmot after tourist-tossed popcorn.

While the effort was fun for the students, a cynic might suggest this is not exactly how most bills become law. For that, the Olympic marmot supporters would have needed an army of lobbyists making campaign contributions to keep legislators from naming the cougar the state mammal, and dealt with groups wanting to trade votes for approval of an endemic amphibian or equal rights for invertebrates. And East Side legislators would have demanded something for our marmots, who are, after all, just as cute and shouldn’t be penalized because they don’t have condos on Hurricane Ridge.

At least it gave the legislators a break from the real business at hand, cutting about $9 billion. The blood-letting on that front continues this week.

Putting chips on the Zags

As is common when a Washington sports team finds itself in a big game, a high-ranking politician here makes a bet with a high-ranking politician from the opponent’s state. So when Gonzaga played North Carolina on Friday, it was only a matter of time before we found out who was betting what.

After all, Gov. Chris Gregoire bet Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich salmon and apples against barbecue and hot dogs for the NFL playoffs in 2007. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell bet Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania salmon, apples and coffee against pirogis and wings for the ’05 Super Bowl. So Gregoire bet North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue … potatoes.

Washington russets vs. Carolina sweet potatoes. Gregoire will send the russets to a North Carolina food bank.

And before you suggest that Gregoire thinks Bulldog basketball is “small potatoes,” let’s acknowledge that betting salmon against more blue-collar food like barbecue is a bit – how to put this delicately? – snooty.

On the Web

Spin Control’s online version generated more comments than ever on last week’s column about people questioning the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate. We checked as many rumors as we could but there’s a limit to what a reporter in Spokane can say about documents in Hawaii (or Kenya or Indonesia). To read the comments or join the conversation, check out the blog.

Spin Control is a weekly political column written by veteran reporter Jim Camden, who can be reached at (509) 459-5461 or jimc@spokesman.com. It is also a blog with daily posts and videos.

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