Dear Taxpayer: Does This 'Bug' You?

Politicians often focus on less important matters

Reports from the state Capitol late last year were filled with stories of a $1.9 billion tax hike the previous Legislature wants Michigan taxpayers to impose on themselves come May 5. But hours before that vote it appeared all the state's problems had been solved, because time had been found to introduce the following bill, as described by MichiganVotes.org:

2014 House Bill 6094: Establish official state bug

Introduced by Rep. Phil Cavanagh, D-Redford, on Dec. 18, 2014, to establish that henceforth, as a matter of law and statute, the monarch butterfly, and no other butterfly or bug, shall be the official insect of the great state of Michigan.

We jest, of course. Rep. Cavanagh would surely and correctly note that legislators are capable of multitasking. Still, the bill provides another opportunity to explore why career politicians so frequently introduce such puffery.

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The answer of course is to curry favor with certain special interests or segments of the population they believe may be helpful for keeping their current jobs, or finding their next elected or appointed government position.

It’s a common Lansing pastime. Other recent examples include:

  • In 2014 Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City, introduced a bill to create an Official State Poem.
  • In 2012 then-Sen. John Moolenar, R-Midland, introduced a bill to declare that Iosco County was the official “birding capital” of Michigan.
  • In 2014 then-Rep. Fred Durhal, D-Detroit, introduced a bill to mandate that the state give a state flag to some survivor of current or former state lawmakers who die.

Alas for term limits and the uncompleted agendas they leave in their wake. As he was heading for the exits last month, Rep. Durhal gave a tearful farewell speech in which he reiterated his desire to see he and his now-former colleagues honored with those funeral flags. This was actually a scaled down effort; his first attempt would have required a state police escort at the funerals of former legislators.

Sometimes the contrast between the puffery and grim reality can be too much though. For example, during the darkest days of Michigan’s lost decade of the 2000s, I covered a debate over which Scottish tartan should be the State of Michigan’s official Scotch tartan. Watch video testimony on the tartan here.

Previous examples of these “Acts of Officialdom” include proposals for an official state song, bird, bird-of-peace, amphibian, nickname, cookie, beverage, dialect and fruit. A Senate Resolution recognizing “Talk Like a Pirate Day” was an annual event the past few years, with the sponsor sporting an eye patch on the Senate floor and — you guessed it — talking like a pirate.


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