Lobbyists are trained at an early age in Michigan. Elementary school children win over the hearts of politicians from both parties when it comes to official state designations for such things as reptiles, mammals, fruit and more.
It happened recently when Michigan Senator Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, introduced a resolution to name the cherry as the official state fruit. The inspiration was a fourth-grade class from Ann Arbor’s Bach Elementary School. They put together a PowerPoint presentation about cherries that Warren saw and then asked the senator if she would submit a bill designating the cherry as a state fruit.
Over the years, dozens of bills or resolutions are introduced seeking to stamp official “State of Michigan” status on some product or cause.
Warren’s bill is now in a subcommittee.
“I don’t have a strong sense it’s on the fast track to anywhere,” Warren said.
However, not all such bills are doomed to failure.
According to the state of Michigan’s website, the painted turtle became the official “state reptile” after encouragement from a fifth-grade class from Niles. And Zeeland fourth-graders successfully lobbied to have the white-tailed deer designated as the official “state game mammal.”
Designating “official” status has been a bipartisan effort, especially when it comes to fruit.
In 2008, Michigan Rep. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, introduced a bill that would designate the blueberry as the official state fruit. It never passed, either.
In May 2010, State Rep. Dian Slavens, D-Canton, introduced a bill to make the tart cherry the state’s official fruit.
But is favoring one fruit over another just one more example of the state picking winners and losers?
Why cherries over apples?
After all, Michigan is expected to harvest 30 million barrels of apples this fall.
Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, said Warren’s bill was a “harmless” resolution “and a nice PR gesture.”
But the apple industry has had its day in the legislative limelight. In 2007, State Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Chelsea, introduced a resolution that would establish apple cider as the “official state beverage.” It never became law. Neither did Byrnes’ 2007 bill that would have designated the northern spring peeper — a small frog — as the official state amphibian.
Warren, who represents the city of Ann Arbor, played to her locals in 2007 when as a state representative she introduced a bill to designate the first University of Michigan home football game date as “Bo Schembechler Day” in the state of Michigan. That bill succeeded as well as one of Schembechler’s 1970s Rose Bowl trips.
In August 2010, State Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville, introduced a bill that proposed to establish the green darner dragonfly as the official state bug. Three months later, State Rep. Fred Miller, D-Mt. Clemens, introduced a resolution that would have made the monarch butterfly the official insect of Michigan.
Neither passed, but dragonflies have been known to eat butterflies.
But not everyone finds the resolutions to be harmless fun.
“It’s an absolute waste of tax dollars,” said Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance. “It fits in with the agenda of politicians to stay elected. Your average taxpayer doesn’t even know that it is going on.”
For example, many taxpayers may not have known that Drolet sponsored House Bill 4962 in 2005, when he was a Republican state representative. That bill asked that a plaque made of melted brass cartridge casings be moved to the Capitol grounds in recognition of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The casings came from a rally at the state Capitol held by gun-rights groups.
Drolet’s bill never got traction in the Michigan Senate after passing in the House 108-0 with the help of gun-rights groups in Michigan. So two other politicians brought Drolet’s bill back to life in 2008 and 2009, but still couldn’t turn it into law.
Perhaps they should have hired fifth-graders to lobby for them.