Capitol Big Top
The Lincoln County Democrat who proposed that the sale of Barbie dolls be banned in West Virginia has gotten plenty of attention for his silly idea, but he got what he wanted. The Legislature buzzed with talk about Barbie and her effect on society.
At one point, several Republicans, including Delegate Daryl Cowles of Morgan County, put Barbie dolls on their desks to show their support for... for what? Free enterprise? Mattel Toys? Tiny plastic high heels? Who knows?
One woman told us she found the whole thing embarrassing and felt it was the kind of thing that gives the state a bad name. She wondered: Don't legislators have more important things to do?
Of course, they do. But these weird little issues and debates are what keeps the process going. Picture 134 legislators in a pressure-cooker 60-day session, where most of them are away from home and living out of hotel rooms. They are constantly pushed and pulled by constituents, lobbyists and political party hacks. Most of the work is tedious – the commas and crossed T's of putting a bill together and guiding it through the House of Delegates and the State Senate to the governor's desk. No wonder a star like Barbie makes such an entrance.
Many years ago, we were in the House when apples were placed on each delegate's desk. They'd been delivered by Brown Norton, then the president of the Morgan County Commission. Norton always took a trunkload of Paw Paw apples to Charleston to give out as a local gift.
It was Friday afternoon late in the session and the tension was building. One delegate tossed an apple to his buddy and soon others were throwing them longer distances across the esteemed House chamber. Luckily, none smashed against the state seal and the whole episode relieved the stress.
Of course, there are other bills just as unlikely as the Barbie Ban. For instance, Delegates John Overington (Berkeley County) and Craig Blair (Morgan/Berkeley) are among a group of Republicans who introduced legislation to eliminate the entire West Virginia State Code and replace it with the Virginia State Code.
While that's another attention getter, it certainly has bigger repercussions than a Barbie Ban – and it's a lot less fun. Obviously, the sponsors are more interested in attention than results. You can only wonder if they are hurting the chances of their other proposals by marginalizing the minority party even more than it already is.
But we all know that the West Virginia Legislature is a circus. And, like all circuses, the Capitol Big Top has its ringmasters, lion tamers, high wire artists, side shows, peanut vendors...and clowns.