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Spin Control: Naming rights could bring money

OLYMPIA – Legislators are considering – not too seriously, it seems – a plan to allow the state to sell the naming rights to its many roads, bridges, tunnels, buildings and other facilities.

Should it pass, Spokane residents might at some future date drive east on the Avista Interstate, cross the Microsoft Bridge over Lake Washington, take an exit onto the Starbucks Expressway, grab the REI exit ramp to the Nordstrom Terminal, then catch the Ivar’s Acres of Clams ferry for points west.

There’s no rate structure in the proposal, which had a hearing last week in the Senate Transportation Committee, so how much the state might collect from such a scheme isn’t known. That was clearly a shortcoming for sponsor Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who could only say the state ought to at least explore any chance to rake in some money that “we don’t have to take out of the taxpayers’ pockets.” Legislators respond better when more definite pots of money are dangled in front of them, such as the possible windfall from legalized pot.

The bill drew predictable harrumphs from purists who think the state ought not to besmirch its fine infrastructure. A member from Gig Harbor seemed leery about the prospect of renaming the Tacoma Narrows Bridge the Chuck E. Cheese Bridge, although it’s not immediately clear if he’s spent too much time eating their pizza while screaming kids thrash about in the pit of plastic balls or just thought it would be unseemly for the company to paint its giant cartoon rat on the structure.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with it if the Legislature can extract a decent rate, although naming structures for corporate entities can be a problem when a corporate change comes along. Just about the time one gets used to Seahawks Stadium being Qwest Field, it gets changed to CenturyLink Field, which requires a search for a catchy nickname like the Clink.

Besides, the state has a tendency to name its various structures and facilities already, but on very narrow criteria and for no cash in hand. They are almost all named for politicians who are either dead or at least so long retired that their former adversaries can’t put up a fuss when the naming resolution comes around. Don’t believe me? Get off Interstate 90 on the Jimmy Keefe Bridge, take a left at the light and go down to Division Street, where if you turn right you will cross over the Sam C. Guess Bridge. Keefe, a Democrat, and Guess, a Republican, were both longtime legislators. Over here, the naming game is nothing if not bipartisan.

Speaking of names

There was a time when the U.S. Navy received its ransom for naming rights. It didn’t hit up corporations but cities that were seeking the prestige of having their names on the latest frigate or cruiser. When the USS Spokane was christened, it received gifts from the residents of its namesake city, including a silver tea service.

It’s unclear when that practice ended, but the state apparently didn’t have to come up with anything when the USS Washington, the Navy’s newest nuclear submarine, arrived in Seattle this month for its welcoming ceremony. Well, nothing but the governor, who seemed more than happy to greet it.

The ceremony shows how things have changed in the 30 years since the Navy sent another brand-new nuclear submarine named for a state into Washington waters. The USS Ohio’s maiden trip into the Sound was met by a flotilla of anti-nuke protesters who tried – bravely according to some, foolishly according to others, but unsuccessfully by any measure – to keep the first Trident sub from reaching Bangor.

Maiden speech for Billig

Freshman Sen. Andy Billig made his first official floor speech last week, which is traditionally a time for new senators to give gifts and older senators to give grief. It was during a resolution marking service of women in the Legislature, appropriate since Billig’s 3rd District has one of the best records of sending women to Olympia. “It means a lot to me, as the father of a daughter,” he said of the state’s strong record of electing women.

As part owner of the Spokane Indians, Billig gave out team caps and baseballs. The razzing wasn’t particularly tough. A few bad baseball references, and Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, wondered about Billig’s support for “made in America” efforts because the caps and balls were made in China. What drew the most interest was the version of the Indians cap with the team name in Salish.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at

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