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The other day I was talking with a friend who used to cover the Legislature for a northern Maine newspaper. He used to say he often wanted to cover it with a heavy tarp.
Anyway, I said something about the number of crazy bills that drift out of the Legislature at this time of year, hoping the comment would shake loose a story. It worked.
He said one of the craziest sessions he ever covered was when a group from up north wanted the Legislature to declare the square dance the official state dance.
He said here was the Legislature - with all kinds of important issues before them - and they decided to “twist and shout” over what Maine’s official dance should be.
On cue the usual suspects took to the floor to make the fiery, quotable speeches. One particularly dramatic legislator said the fact that we’ve been operating our fine state without an official state dance made him “weak in the knees” just thinking about it.
He said everyone knows how upset local officials get when they catch someone building a shed on their land without an official building permit. Yet our state officials – the very people we depend on to look after our interests – apparently see nothing wrong with operating our great state without an official state dance. And as far as their excuses go, they don’t have a leg to stand on, he added.
Another legislator went on about how the people of Maine have been going about their daily business under the false impression that urgent questions like the official state tree (white pine), the official state cat (Maine coon),the official mineral (tourmaline), and the official state dance had all been dealt with and were behind us. Fact is, no such resolution has ever been reached on the latter issue.
Another State House solon said with all the skill our public officials exhibit while waltzing around one issue and sidestepping another, you’d think an official State of Maine dance would be a pretty easy assignment for us. But it wasn’t. When the square dance group showed up with their proposal, the two-stepping legislators and tap-dancing governor couldn’t agree at that late date on what our official state dance should be.
But somehow both houses of the Legislature eventually passed the square dance bill which then lingered on the Governor’s desk waiting for his signature.
That’s when the arty crowd from the Arts Commission got involved and wanted the bill reconsidered. They also insisted on “choreographing” the whole process.
The square dance officials asked where these culturally diverse hoofers were when the legislature was considering the dance bill in the first place? Every dance aficionado in the state apparently knew about the critical dance bill and their well-heeled members were all in Augusta for the hearings.
My friend said those dance bill hearings were something else. On the day the official dance bill had its “unveiling,” the hallowed halls of the Capitol became a majestic dance hall for a day. Its stately corridors echoed to the sounds of tap shoes, the clomping from hundreds of cloggers was deafening. At one point the hearing room as wall-to-wall tutus.
After the bill was finally passed the Governor said he wanted to take it from the top, and have the lawmakers recall the bill, do-si-do back to the hearing room and consider what steps to take next.
When a State House pundit said a vote to reconsider the square dance bill would be “difficult to call,” a critic from the Arts Commission said such “exclusionary language” should be avoided when discussing a topic as” touchy” as dancing.
Meanwhile, Maine continued to limp along without an official state dance and square dancers from across the country threatened nationwide promenades in protest.
It was quite a session, he said.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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