As if the situation in the Persian Gulf, the budget deficit and a nomination to the Supreme Court were not enough, the Senate has a new worry. The question: May senators display their state flags in the hall outside their offices?
And beyond flags: May senators display the U.S. flag and artifacts reflecting their states' histories in the halls of the three Senate office buildings? The Senate Rules Committee will take up the questions Oct. 21.
Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) asked the committee last month to authorize "the display of flags and appropriate artifacts adjacent to the entrance of senators' offices."
The rules now say that "the corridors and passageways of the Senate wing of the Capitol shall be kept open and free from obstructions."
Chairman Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.) asked for a definition of artifacts "other than a Hawaiian standing there or a totem from Alaska."
Inouye: "Artifacts approved by the Rules Committee."
Ford: "Well, that puts us right back in the soup again. I would like to have it drawn out as to what is and what is not. That way we would all share parts of the burden instead of old Ford having to make the decision, to be very frank about it."
Inouye: "Mr. Chairman, I think it is very difficult to legislate esthetics. I would leave it up to the committee to determine whether an artifact is appropriate and esthetic and not blocking the passageway."
Sen. Jake Garn (R-Utah) said he doesn't care one way or the other but thinks it "really rather inappropriate that we have to decorate the outside of our offices. There is plenty of junk and memorabilia and how great we are on the inside of the offices."
"The next thing we'll know we'll have flags over top of the door tilted out and they'll look like you are marching down through a bunch of sabers," Ford said. "It appears to me that display of the state flag out in the hall would be sufficient because of identification."
Ford suggested that if artifacts were permitted, his might be a jockey, holding a fifth of whiskey, mounted on a thoroughbred. "And then on Derby Day, he would have a mint julep in his hand and he would head west," said Ford. He said he would have to disapprove any artifacts of that size outside an office door.
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the ranking committee Republican, said he had a totem in his office, but "my state animal is a bowhead whale."
He suggested that the architect of the Capitol make a recommendation as to whether traffic would be obstructed by a plaque on the wall and a state flag and artifact in the hallway.
There was no objection to the suggestion.