Legislators have wrapped up their three-week special session. Gov. Jay Inslee has started signing bills again after a fit of pique. And all of the aforementioned can now get back to the business of fundraising and campaigning for re-election.
Our long national nightmare – scratch that – our short state nightmare is over.
The extended partisan gridlock and temporary shutdown of the governor’s ceremonial pen inventory were worth sweating through. State leaders scrounged up modest sums in their supplemental budget for mental hospitals, wildfire management and homeless programs. But there was one area where they lavished citizens with a bountiful harvest.
In the last several days, as the political ice of winter thawed, Inslee commenced signing bills that will bring a fresh bloom of color, charm and niche-interest messaging to vehicles from Anacortes to Zillah.
Tennis anyone? Fans of the racket sport will have their own license plate design. Money raised will help construct public tennis courts.
Or maybe the sport of wrestling grabs you. Drivers will be able to pin specialty plates on their bumpers to support college wrestling programs around the state.
Farmers and ranchers will have a custom plate worthy of a hearty “yee haw!” Proceeds will go to FFA education programs.
And steelhead will join the menagerie of Washington wildlife memorialized in rectangles of sheet metal, with all funds dedicated to species-management efforts.
More Purple Hearts also will be tooling around town. The governor signed a bill allowing family members of wounded combat veterans to obtain their own plates.
Critics can grumble all they want about license-plate overload. It’s disorienting to be stuck in traffic with a growing collection of bears, orcas, eagles, lighthouses, sports team logos and square dancers. It spreads visual clutter all over the highway, kind of like those gaudy U-Haul trucks with random state scenes. It transforms motor vehicles into rolling, 4,000-pound Facebook Likes.
Why can’t we just share the road as a united Washington, with a simple silhouette of Mount Rainier to bring us together?
Like it or not, the customized culture is here to stay. At least our state lawmakers have resisted letting license plates serve as proxy billboards for hard-line political arguments. Several states have authorized anti-abortion plates, while Virginia also created an abortion-rights alternative. Someone should study whether road rage incidents have increased there.
The only polarizing plates in Washington are the ones designed for Husky and Cougar fans. (Cougs win. Theirs is the most popular specialty plate in the state, with 20,817 sets in active service.)
This year’s crop of new specialty plates will raise the total to 56 varieties. Sponsoring organizations must pay $7,427 in startup costs to the Department of Licensing before the new ones go into circulation.
Somehow, legislators managed to say “no” to a handful of others this year. There will be no license plates promoting trees, public school safety, a firefighter memorial fund, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center or the National Rifle Association.
Better luck next year. Although with all the other work left undone in 2016, lawmakers have set themselves up with a rather full plate.