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Spin Control: Spin Control: Advocates plant the spores for naming Washington state mushroom

UPDATED: Sat., Feb. 18, 2017

Washington lawmakers were asked this week to consider the Tricholoma magnivelare, or pine mushroom, as the state’s official fungus. The Tricholoma magnivelare appears similar to the mushroom seen here in a photo taken near Cheney in 2015. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington lawmakers were asked this week to consider the Tricholoma magnivelare, or pine mushroom, as the state’s official fungus. The Tricholoma magnivelare appears similar to the mushroom seen here in a photo taken near Cheney in 2015. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Among the down-to-earth topics with which lawmakers dealt last week was the question of whether Washington should have a state fungus.

One bill suggests it should, or at least could. House Bill 1812 asks lawmakers to bestow that honor on the pine mushroom, or Tricholoma magnivelare, if we’re being formal.

Naming a state anything is often the quest of grade schoolers who are trying to learn a lesson about how government works, and sometimes get a better lesson in how it doesn’t. They get friendly treatment at their committee hearing, because no lawmaker is going to ask a kid a tough question and risk making them cry while TVW cameras are rolling.

One of the more recent successful attempts was the push by Washtucna Elementary students to name the Palouse Falls the state waterfall.

The state mushroom idea came from a slightly older set, some students at Evergreen State College, who still got the kid gloves treatment by members of the House State Government Committee. Matthew Hurley told lawmakers the pine mushroom is the perfect fungus for the state to honor because of the symbiotic relationship it has with pine trees, making them grow bigger and faster; its a food source prized by both the Asian communities and the Salish tribes; and it could boost tourism and help veterans who might be recruited to pick them.

(Apparently someone impressed on Hurley the need to boost multiculturalism, economic benefits and veterans to catch the attention of various factions in the Legislature. Give the man an A.)

Emily Hall may have gone just a bit overboard when she suggested this fungus – or any fungus – is “an incredible reflection of who we are as a state.”

Committee members refrained from asking the first question that might pop up in their constituents’ minds: Why do we need a state fungus?

One might equally ask why do we need a state fossil, state oyster, state amphibian or a state endemic mammal? (But never “Why a state waterfall?” because, well, the kids from Washtucna Elementary were really cute.) One would not ask these particular lobbyists why a state motto, because their college is named for the motto.

The second question a constituent might ask – how many states have a state fungus? – also did not come up. Quick, but by no means definitive, research on Google says only two, Oregon and Minnesota, while Missouri lawmakers considered such a move several years ago but never sealed the deal.

But if Washington must have a state fungus, it may as well be the pine mushroom. Some other state might claim Tricholoma magnivelare and Washington might have to fall back on another fungus. Like athlete’s foot.

Hardly a laughing matter

The state mushroom bill hearing prompted Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw, to try his hand at comedy, with a pun about this particular fungus being small because it grows on pine roots where there isn’t mush room. Get it: mushroom, mush room, much room?

We offer this not for the humor, but as a teachable moment. Lawmakers should not quit their nice, cushy day jobs to do standup.

From the Strange Bedfellows Department

Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, and Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, are pretty far apart politically, but they managed to agree, albeit briefly, on the importance of a bill during a session of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

The bill was HB 2097, which prohibits employers or government officials from keeping a list of employees’ or citizens’ religious affiliations or asking about someone’s faith.

“This seems like it fits well with Washington values, in terms of both religious freedom and federal intervention on these things,” Jinkins said, urging the committee to vote yes.

Shea, too, urged a yes vote. “On a day when many view the Washington state Supreme Court opinion as enshrining the persecution of Christians, I think this bill gives us hope.”

That was a reference to the court’s 9-0 ruling that morning that said a florist in the Tri-Cities couldn’t refuse to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding because of her religious belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. Shea went on to quote the federal and state constitutions on their protections of religious liberty and tolerance.

“I guess we can disagree about what the Supreme Court did today,” said Jinkins, who earlier had joined other members of the LGBT caucus in praising the decision. “But I guess we can save that for another day.”

The committee passed the bill on a unanimous voice vote.

Coming Monday

The Spokesman-Review and Spin Control are experimenting with Facebook Live, with a weekly roundup of the previous week’s legislative activity and a look ahead to the current week’s schedule. If you’re curious about what is happening in Olympia, or have questions about why they do things, visit The Spokesman-Review’s Facebook page at noon Monday.

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