By Philip Rucker
Thursday, February 21, 2008
What's in a symbol? Should a soybean become one? A slice of cake? What about the act of walking?
These were the questions that Maryland lawmakers pondered yesterday as they heard testimony on almost a dozen bills to create state symbols, designations, holidays and commemorative months.
Maryland has 22 state designations, including the official state sport (jousting), drink (milk), insect (Baltimore checkerspot butterfly) and dinosaur ( Astrodon johnstoni). But some legislators and residents want the General Assembly to adopt more: an official state dessert, for example.
Testifying yesterday to add Smith Island cake to the list was the Cake Lady, a baker from the Eastern Shore hamlet of Smith Island named Mary Ada Marshall. She said the 10-layered buttery confection, which is lathered with frosting, would be a tourism boon.
Reports that lawmakers are considering designating the cake have appeared in newspapers as far away as Los Angeles and Seattle, and Del. D. Page Elmore (R-Wicomico) said sales at Smith Island bakeries have increased threefold in recent weeks.
"It has really been a good economic development tool for the bakeries on the lower Eastern Shore and also for the ladies on Smith Island," Elmore said.
For cake lovers, the best way to shed those extra pounds might be walking, which lawmakers could designate as the official state exercise. No state in the union has adopted an official exercise, but Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Montgomery) said it's about time Maryland be the first.
"It would put Maryland on the map," Bronrott said. "Walking is about health, fitness, but it's also about the environment."
The proposal to adopt soybean as the official state crop warmed the hearts of lawmakers, and not because they have a soft spot for farmers. The witnesses testifying for the designation were fifth-graders who came to Annapolis from the Eastern Shore to teach the delegates about the history of soybeans.
"There are many acres of soybeans in Maryland," said Krystin Abbott, 10.
Logan Bodzer, 11, explained that soybeans are brown and grow to become 20 centimeters tall. "Please take this into consideration," she said.
"Excellent testimony," said Del. Peter A. Hammen (D-Baltimore), chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee. "Any questions from the panel?"
"Would it be appropriate to ruthlessly grill the witnesses?" joked Del. Patrick L. McDonough (R-Baltimore County).
Throughout the afternoon, legislators didn't interrogate any witnesses but heard passionate testimony on many other proposals. One bill would establish January -- in addition to February -- as a Black History Month. Another bill would make May an awareness month for Dandy-Walker Syndrome, to disseminate information about the rare birth defect of the brain.
There's even a proposal to make the last week of June Pollinator Week, celebrating the role of pollination in the health of the ecosystem.
The bills might sound trivial, but lawmakers are taking them seriously. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) jumped into the fray, sending an aide to testify in support of making the Friday after Thanksgiving a state holiday celebrating American Indians.
"It's just begging for a name," deputy legislative director Sean Malone said of the day.