Olympia? Too many chiefs, not enough revenue | Opinion

Journal columnist Howard Schonberger

Journal columnist Howard Schonberger

Once again, now that President Obama and many others have chimed in on the “State” of their responsibilities, I feel inclined to irresponsibly gather some of their wisdom to do my bit on the “State of the Ferries”.

Various legislators are talking about saving money by cutting the cost of government in half.

They want to throw out the universal healthcare bill that finally made it through Congress.

“No way can we afford it,” they say, wasting a week of their session, costing the taxpayers millions in wages for them and their staffs, knowing that their attempt would be ignored in the Senate and vetoed by the president.

As if no one realized they had won a majority of House seats. Talk about waste. Then again, perhaps not.

Last week our new chamber of commerce executive director, Tom Kirschner, talked a lot about what we could and could not afford when he spoke to the Lions Club.

Eureka! I remembered something that happened during the Great Depression.

Senator George W. Norris, a great legislator during the New Deal years, had long felt there was no need to have two legislative bodies in government.

He led the fight to make Nebraska a Unicameral state in 1937. Put to the ballot, Nebraskans voted 2-to-1 in favor of the change and it still saves an estimated $20 million a year for Cornhuskers.

That might not be much, but when you multiply that by 63 years, that sounds like enough to at least have a once-a-day ride to Sidney on the state ferry system’s international run.

I don’t know if you will find many legislators who agree with this, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the same two-thirds majority among the petition signers might hold forth.

Who knows what the Internet Age holds?

We have other ways for the ferries to make money. In Finland, they have ferries with private rooms; in Canada, dining rooms with linen napkins, china and eating utensils made not from plastic, but stainless steel.

Who knows, we might even try voyage attendants who could serve starving passengers food as they ride the waves. We could sell neat ferry toys or miniature ferries as they do in Canada. They have all sorts of shops, including grocery stores on some of the ferries.

But let’s not close our highways on the water, unless it’s a tsunami!

By the way, did I mention that Norris used to be a Republican? The Republicans back then ran another George Norris during a primary to confuse the electorate, even if it cost them a seat. Nebraskans are not dumb. George “Grocer” Norris lost miserably.

Senator Norris was the kind of man who would say: “I might vote for some bills in a way you don’t like, but only if I think it’s better for the country.”

He didn’t believe in being labeled.

To this day, in the George W. Norris Unicameral Legislature in Lincoln, Neb., no member is voted in as a member of a political party on the ballot.

And lobby laws and other laws make it truly an independent state of the union, one that’s not defined by either red or blue.

— Go with the F.L.O.W. (Ferry Lovers Of Washington)