You may be able to hear them howling from the Capitol today. It’s Dog Day at the Maine Legislature.
No, dogs are not allowed in the Capitol building. But the place will be full of dog lovers attending a public hearing on a bill to name the Labrador retriever our state dog. The bill is sponsored Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, at the request of a constituent, Stacy Gile of Wells.
“I certainly don’t blame people for thinking, ‘What do we need a state dog for?’ Well, why don’t we have one? We have all kinds of state symbols,” Gile told Samantha Edwards of WLBZ TV. “We have the ones we all know about. We have the chickadee. We have the moose. We have the Maine coon cat. The cat gets their day, why can’t the dog have theirs?”
This reminds me of my all-time-favorite legislative public hearing, on a bill sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, to make the whoopie pie our state dessert. The queen of whoopies, Amy Bouchard of Gardiner, creator of Isomax Wicked Whoopies, came up with the idea and filled the hearing room with whoopie pies. Certainly was the tastiest hearing ever.
Just like Dutremble with his dog bill, Davis was roundly criticized for “wasting the Legislature’s time.” Beth Quimby’s Feb. 2 story in this newspaper quoted a woman from Arundel who said the Labrador bill “is stupid. There are so many other issues.”
That woman misunderstands the legislative process. There is a lot of down time at the Legislature, for one thing, so legislators have plenty of opportunity for fun bills like this one. And the public gets most engaged in issues like this. We’ll never fully understand tax reform bills, but boy, we can fire up on dogs.
Whoopie pies provide an important lesson for Dutremble and Gile. Maine’s blueberry industry vigorously opposed naming the whoopie pie the state dessert. Legislators managed a compromise, naming the blueberry pie our state dessert and the whoopie pie our state treat. Brilliant. Now you have a good excuse to indulge in both.
And there is an economic benefit here. I don’t know how many blueberry pies have been sold, but Bouchard has sold more than 30 million of her decadent and delicious Wicked Whoopies. That’s not a typo — 30 million.
Of course, there are more dogs than desserts in the running for state designation, so Giles will draw a whole lot of opposition. Support is growing for the Irish setter, the bull terrier, the Newfoundland, and even the bowser (part basenji, an African hunting breed, and Mexican chihuahua). Quimby reported that Andrew Parker of South Portland suggested a rescue dog, to “show how kind-hearted Mainers are.”
If Parker attends the public hearing on the dog bill, kind-heartedness may not be in evidence. It is sure to be a howling good debate, but in my experience, nothing stirs up people like arguments about pets.
I can help Gile with one argument being made against her bill — that the Lab has no strong connection to the state. Well, Moxie is our state drink, and it is produced in South Carolina.
In 2011, during the wicked good whoopie debate, I wrote a column proposing other state designations including the state sport (complaining) and the state liquor store (Portsmouth). And can you believe our state shellfish is not the lobster? OK, I’m complaining.
I proposed Stephen King as our state author. I sat next to Steve in freshman creative writing class at the University of Maine. At my book talks, I like to say we both became writers and we’ve sold 300 million books.
If you insist that state designations should be created here, let’s go with these. State mustard: Raye’s, still made with the old grindstone in Eastport. State flour: Maine Grains from the Somerset Grist Mill.
State boot: I’ll bet I don’t have to tell you what this is, especially if you tried to buy a pair of L.L. Bean boots for Christmas and were told you couldn’t get a pair until April.
And wouldn’t it be fun to launch a discussion (OK, an argument) about a state vegetable? Are goose tongue greens a vegetable? They would be my choice. I am certain the fiddlehead folks will disagree. Tomatoes, anyone?
Alabama has a state nut. Now wouldn’t that debate be interesting.
Finally, let’s designate our state’s favorite fun activity. I am pretty sure it will not be debating issues before the Legislature. Woof! Woof! Woof!