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Eye On Boise

House panel backs Orofino Maniacs plate, but without the word ‘maniacs’ in the bill

Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, is proposing legislation to create a vanity plate to honor the controversial mascot of Orofino High -- Maniacs. (Courtesy of the Lewiston Tribune)
Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, is proposing legislation to create a vanity plate to honor the controversial mascot of Orofino High -- Maniacs. (Courtesy of the Lewiston Tribune)

After hearing from advocates for the mentally ill and people who suffer from mental illnesses that an “Orofino Maniacs” specialty license plate would be offensive, the House Transportation Committee has voted to send Rep. Paul Shepherd’s specialty plate bill to the House’s amending order to remove its four references to the word “maniacs,” but still authorize a special plate with the emblem. Orofino is the location of State Hospital North, the state mental hospital; Orofino High School has had “Maniacs” as its school mascot since the 1920s.

“I just think that’s a reasonable compromise - the emblem could stay, but we’d remove the word ‘maniac’ from the code,” said Rep. Linden Bateman, R-Idaho Falls. He said, “We have all kinds of colorful names throughout the state of Idaho. You take the name the ‘Idaho Vandals.’ Do you realize the plunder and the violence perpetuated by the Vandals in northern Europe? … This little figure looks like someone cheering for the team.”

When Jim Baugh, head of Disability Rights Idaho, was asked by lawmakers if the removal of the word “maniacs” would help, he said that “would improve the situation,” but added, “When I look at that image, that person appears to me to be wearing a hospital gown,” with no shoes or pants; he said it appears to show a hospital inmate.

Jill Woolsey, an Orofino city councilwoman and head of the Clearwater Community Foundation, said the specialty plate would raise badly needed money for Orofino schools.  She called the Orofino Maniacs mascot “a symbol of unbridled enthusiasm, a symbol of overcoming odds and a symbol of a will to win and keep fighting,” and said, it’s “everywhere within our city,” from storefronts to decals and T-shirts. The bill is intended, she said, “to assist with funding in a school district in desperate need of funds.”

Christine Pisani, executive director of the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities, said she wanted to “recognize the good people of Orofino on their intentions,” but the council “opposes this legislation because of the stigmatizing effect the word ‘maniac’ has on people experiencing mental health issues. In Idaho, that is 54,000 adults and 18,000 children.”

She shared a photo from a Bonners Ferry homecoming parade in 2012 in which a float portrayed a person in a cage, with the slogan, “Cage the Crazies.” “They were playing the Orofino Maniacs,” she said. “It’s quite offensive. I think that the message is clear, and I would appreciate if you would consider the consequences of the message sent by our state if this bill passes.”

Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said, “I really have a lot of sympathy for Orofino and their schools. I’d like to find another way to get them some money, but this isn’t it.”

Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, said, “This is a school mascot. This mascot is not much different than the Salmon Savages that I happen to represent, McCall-Donnelly Vandals, they all have caricatures that aren’t very flattering. And this is just simply a caricature.”

Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said, “I feel like we as a state have pitted people against each other to try to find money for their school. … We need to do something to fund schools, to not pit each other against each other in this way.”

There were three motions made before the panel, still divided, voted to send the bill to the House’s amending order by roughly a 2-1 margin. Gestrin said he thought the change would “make it a better bill,” and Rep. Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry, called it “middle ground.” The tension in the committee was broken a bit when the committee secretary, calling the roll for the vote, mistakenly called Bateman as "Rep. Batman." Laughter followed, along with a brief hummed rendition of the "Batman" theme.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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