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June 26, 2014
Bill Whalen: What if legislators took on pro sports nicknames?

red-legged_frog.JPG(June 26 - By Bill Whalen, Special to The Bee)

As someone who grew up in the nation's capital spending his Sundays rooting for the local NFL team, I'll admit to being torn. I've always liked the Washington Redskins; if the franchise changes its nickname to something more socially acceptable, there are greater tragedies in life.

But here's what bothers me: Federal lawmakers and regulators are wasting their time taking the Redskins to task at a time when the Middle East is on fire, the economy's recovery remains fragile, and IRS information technology is a contradiction in terms.

And how did California's state government - the "West Coast offense" when it comes to banality, triviality and sticking its nose where it doesn't belong - manage not to rumble and stumble its way into this PC messiness?

Though it's late in the game, the state Legislature can still get on the field. The NFL's regular season doesn't kick off until the first Thursday in September; California lawmakers have until the Sunday before to pass bills. They could levy, say, a 100 percent fee on whatever ticket and television revenue the 'Skins collect the lone time they visit the Golden State in 2014 (a Nov. 24 tilt in the San Francisco 49ers' new stadium).

Meanwhile, if the idea is to force-feed political correctness down the gullet of professional sports, our intrepid lawmakers would do well to take a good, hard look around the Golden State. They'll see teams fraught with names that clearly scar the psyche.

In Sacramento, Kings is an affront to a nation forged by a rebellion against a tyrannical monarch (the same applies to L.A.'s Stanley Cup champs).

In the Bay Area, we have Warriors (way too bellicose in a town marred by violence); Athletics (not everyone got a varsity letter); 49ers (greed isn't good - not even a gold rush); Raiders (piracy = lawlessness); Giants (imagine the hurt inflicted on the vertically challenged); and Sharks (yes, even lawyers have feelings).

In the Southland, Angels offends atheists; Dodgers traumatizes those who reported to their draft office; and Clippers celebrates sailing vessels used in the slave trade.

Farther south: Chargers invokes the Crusades, just as Padres channels religious and cultural oppression against those who were here before us.

So there you have it - at least a dozen reasons for lawmakers to be personally outraged. Plus, imagine the fun of legislators taking the next step - renaming the teams. Good luck fitting "Underappreciated State Workers" or "Underpaid Public School Teachers" on uniforms.

The good news is there's still time for Sacramento to top Washington on the silliness scale. And that brings us to Assembly Bill 2364, the brainchild of Assemblyman V. Manuel PĂ©rez, which aims to designate the California red-legged frog (of Calaveras County and Mark Twain fame) as the Golden State's official amphibian.

Sent to the governor this week, the bill is not the Legislature's first foray into the wilderness beyond the K Street Mall. California already has an official animal (grizzly bear), bird (California quail), mammal (gray whale), reptile (desert tortoise), fish (golden trout), mollusk (banana slug), insect (California dog-face butterfly) and fossil (the saber-tooth cat - though some conservative Republicans would also qualify). Adding one more critter would seem more of the same, needed or not.

Only, the red-legged frog isn't your average pond-dweller. It eats just about anything it can catch (fitting, for a Legislature that spends pretty much whatever it can collect). From above, it can appear brown, gray, olive red, or orange - much like a state Capitol, where appearances can be misleading.

But unlike Washington's NFL team, the red-legged frog has friends in high places in government. In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stepped in and gave the frog a California habitat roughly the size of Florida's Everglades National Park - 1.6 million acres in 28 counties - a decision that came after 14 years of environmental litigation that quintupled the size of the original designation. The frog may be quaint to Twainiacs; to many a California landowner, it's an affront.

It's not enough to celebrate the frog in 19th century literature. It also gets its special day - a jubilee, every May, on the county fairgrounds. The frogs that compete in Calaveras County don't jump with reckless abandon; they're covered under a frog welfare policy adopted nearly 20 years ago by the board of directors of the 39th District Agricultural Association.

Now, state lawmakers seek to bestow official amphibian status upon the frog - boosting its self-esteem, but probably not its leaping prowess.

Celebrated, protected and coddled by state government. How California is that? Only one tribute remains: Goodbye Sacramento Kings, hello Red-Legged Frogs. Or is that too offensive?

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be contacted at