by Justice William W. Bedsworth
As you may have noticed, I have something of a love/hate relationship with legislators. On the one hand, I want to applaud them for being willing to take on the Augean Stables that is modern politics. But my other hand wants to punch their lights out for trying to do it on horseback.
Learn from Hercules, folks. Serious clean-up requires more imagination than riding in on Trigger with a shovel in your hand. Trigger and the shovel just cancel each other out. It’s a holding action at best.
So I’m a little disappointed that the legislature doesn’t seem to appreciate the fact that adding meaningless laws not only adds clutter to our already cluttered statutory edifice, but reduces the time available to add the meaningful laws.
For example, our state legislature1 celebrated my brother’s birthday by adding section 425.7(a) to the California Government Code—which is already as overstuffed as my grandfather’s favorite chair.2
California Government Code section 425.7(a) designates Augustynolophus morrisi as the official California state dinosaur.
Yep. That’s what it says. Official California state dinosaur.
I’ll pause here so you can breathe a sigh of relief. We finally got that taken care of.
As I write, the state is trying to figure out how to build and repair dams to control a river system we may have taken for granted for too long; how to deal with the after-effects of a historic drought; how to get water from NorCal to SoCal; how to provide an adequate transportation infrastructure; how to develop sustainable energy resources; and how to feed and house people devastated by the worst fire season in history. Our legislative plate is fuller than an NFL lineman’s Thanksgiving platter.
Granted, the legislature could not foresee our historic fire season when they were according Hall of Fame status to Augustynolophus morrisi.3 The time for debating the relative merits of Augie and Barney passed before the biggest fires in our state’s history broke out.
But they knew there would be fires. And they knew about the other problems.
And it wasn’t like time was of the essence. Augie was discovered outside Fresno in 1939. Depending on whether you adopt the Bible or a college geology text as the appropriate reference work, Augie has been waiting somewhere between 6,000 and 95,000,000 years for this honor. It’s not like he was standing outside the Capitol building tapping his foot. There was really no rush.
Nor was denim, which had only been around for a couple hundred years when we made it our official state fabric in 2016. Denim could certainly have waited until we got our act together on the bullet train or the Oroville Dam.
Don’t get me wrong. These people have taken on a terribly difficult job—to my mind, the worst job in the world that doesn’t involve handling fish or listening to me.
And as I have said in published opinions, they should be given deference in terms of how they resolve issues.4 But in terms of which issues they choose to resolve . . . well . . . official state dinosaur choosing is hard to give deference to.
Nor do I mean to suggest this legislature is worse than others. This whole Official California State Whatchamacallit thing is older than Augie—or at least Augie’s discovery. The Government Code is chockablock with goofy officialdom, legislated over decades.
We have an official state flower, state tree, state reptile, state motto, state nickname, state bird, state insect, state marine mammal, state animal,5 state mineral, state rock, and state fossil. The state reptile (Cal. Gov’t Code § 422.5) is the desert tortoise (gopherus agassizii). The state fossil is the saber-toothed tiger. Wouldn’t you like to know who the lobbyist was who got those two through?
A few years ago, I ran across a shirt that had a label proclaiming it to be the “California State Tartan.” In Skaneateles, New York. Being a loyal Californian, I bought it and, to my surprise, found out that we indeed have an official state tartan. Cal. Gov’t Code § 424.3.
And there’s more. You wanna know why you have 53 linear feet of annotated codes in your office? You wanna know why it takes a forklift and two union members to pick up the Government Code? Because it’s full of stuff like, “The California Dogface Butterfly (Zerene eurydice) is the official State Insect” (Cal. Gov’t Code § 424.5), that’s why.
Some of these are obviously more important than others. Government Code section 421 not only designates the California golden poppy as our state flower, but gives it its own special Day.7 The state butterfly did not get its own day. It might want to consider changing its lobbyist.
In 1943, we declared the California valley quail “the avifaunal emblem of the state.” Not only has that failed utterly to improve the lifestyle of the quail, whose primary predator continues to be birdshot, but it appears to have eviscerated the word “avifaunal” which, as near as I can determine, has not been used since.
We had a little trouble with Government Code section 422. As originally passed, it designated the California redwood the state tree. But it didn’t specify which species of redwood, and two were commonly called California redwoods.
You can imagine the consternation that caused among sequoiaphiles.8 It took an opinion of the attorney general (18 Op. Att’y Gen. 395) and more legislation to straighten that out.9
They were much more careful in 1965 when they chose “native gold” as the official “state mineral and mineralogic emblem” and “serpentine” as the official “state rock and lithologic10 emblem.” Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 425.1 & 425.2. You don’t want people going around confusing their rock emblems and their mineral emblems.
But my favorite is the state animal. That’s the California grizzly bear. But not just any Ursus californicus. Oh no. The state animal is “the California Grizzly Bear . . . as depicted in outline, details, and in colors on the official representation in the custody of the Secretary of State.” Cal. Gov’t Code § 425.
I checked on that. The depiction the secretary of state has is the one on the state flag. So if the grizzly chewing up your sleeping bag and your Coleman stove doesn’t look like the one on the state flag in Department 43, he’s not the official state animal. No matter what his badge says.
Sing him a couple of choruses of our official state song, “I Love You, California” (Cal. Gov’t Code §421.7) and hope for the best.
Coincidentally, that’s also my strategy for getting the legislature to spend less time on official stuff designation. Wish me luck.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. And look for his new book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon and Vandeplas Publishing.