Grant Bosse: Fourth-graders are running the State House
George Carlin had a bit in one of his standup specials on what states put on their license plates, which run the gamut from Idaho’s “Famous Potatoes” to New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die.” Carlin suspected that somewhere between the two the truth lies, probably a little closer to “Famous Potatoes.”
This week, the New Hampshire House seemed to agree, voting to make the white potato New Hampshire Official State Vegetable.
Sir Francis Drake brought the potato from South America to Europe in 1586, and it took more than 100 years for European settlers to bring it back across the pond. Virginia had long claimed to be the first place the potato planted in the United States, until a fourth-grade class from Derry set everyone straight.
They found evidence showing that the common white potato was first cultivated in the Nutfield, now part of Derry, in 1719. That predates the Virginia claim and forced state officials to concede New Hampshire’s spud supremacy.
The students then persuaded their State House delegation to introduce the potato bill. On Wednesday, bill sponsors lauded the potato’s historic connection to New Hampshire, and opponents waged a nutritionally-based campaign for broccoli, while the young students sat in the gallery supposedly learning how a bill becomes a law. No one stood up to argue that the entire exercise was pandering and a complete waste of time. The potato bill passed by a vote of 276-75. Regrettably, it was not a roll call vote, so we don’t know which 75 Representatives had the courage to say no to this nonsense.
Reaction to the potato bill fells into two camps: “Aw, good for those kids”
and “What, we’re out of real problems?”
Back in the Dark Age when I was a Cub Scout, I had to learn the state tree, state flower and state bird, but it seems to have really gotten of hand.
In 2006, students in Harrisville lobbied for the state fruit. In 2009, we adopted the state dog. I’d really like someone to explain to my golden retriever why the state of New Hampshire considers him a second-class citizen.
In 2010, the Legislature spent months debating the state beverage, which prompted an actual fight between apple growers pushing cider and dairy farmers arguing for milk.
We’re up to nine state songs, and counting. In fact, if you find something catchy that rhymes with granite, you could probably get one added to the list.
I led the fight in 2011 to kill an effort to designate purple as the state color. Many would suspect it’s because I’m mean and generally no fun at all.
I love that elementary schools take a field trip to the State House. I took part in the YMCA’s “Youth in Government” program, which takes over the State House and Legislative Office Building for three days every year. But pushing such vanity bills into law is not just a waste of legislative resources. It’s a faulty lesson on the role and function of state government.
The real problem with writing this junk DNA into our laws is that it fuels the unhealthy instinct for state representatives to believe they can solve everyone’s problems just by introducing a bill.
Your breed of dog, choice of vegetable or favorite color are not matters on which on which the state of New Hampshire should have an opinion. We’ve cluttered our laws with the state animal, amphibian, insect, butterfly, mineral, gem, freshwater fish, saltwater game fish, sport and Tartan. Enough.
Granted, these bills are less harmful that what’s coming out of the House Ways and Means Committee this year. But we can’t keep using the State House as a way to pander to one elementary school class a year.
If you really want to give these kids a real lesson, send the potato bill to a study committee, where lobbyists can fight over it all summer. Bring in back next year as a non-germane amendment to another bill. Then strip the potato language out in conference committee.
Repeat the process a few times, and finally pass a watered-down House resolution just before the kids graduate from high school.
That would teach them how things really work at the State House. Or we could elect some grownups.
(Grant Bosse is editor of New Hampshire Watchdog, an independent news site dedicated to New Hampshire public policy.)