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State cookie stirs bitter controversy

State Sen. Robert Thompson has a chip on his shoulder.

A chocolate chip, to be precise.

The Chester County Republican is immersed in a continuing political divide in the state Legislature. The increasingly vocal debate involves the selection of an official state cookie.

Thompson and state Rep. Craig Dally of Northampton County have introduced competing measures in the Senate and House to designate a particular cookie as Pennsylvania’s own. This is not a decision to be rendered lightly. The cookie finally chosen will reside among these other illustrious official state things:

  • The ruffed grouse, voted the state bird in 1931 over objections from western Pennsylvania lawmakers who wanted that distinction bestowed upon a local favorite: the disease-spreading pigeon.

  • The deceptively harmless-looking mountain laurel, adopted in 1933 over objections from farmers who argued that the state flower should be both eye appealing and nontoxic to livestock.

  • The eastern hemlock, majestic evergreens that became the state tree in 1931 after the powerful Christmas tree lobby’s successful smear campaign against the runner-up, the tulip poplar. The poplars have never come close to regaining their popularity.

    Dally recently introduced a bill that would place the Nazareth sugar cookie alongside the bird, flower and tree.

    “The Nazareth community really has been behind this movement for some time,” Dally said Friday. “The cookies were popular among (Protestant) settlers in the Nazareth and Bethlehem areas” in the 18th century.

    Two days after Dally unveiled his bill, Thompson threw his own legislation into the mix.

    Saying that Pennsylvania is the nation’s leading producer of processed chocolate and cocoa, Thompson suggested the chocolate chip cookie would be a worthy representative of the state.

    Thompson doesn’t want blame for igniting this internecine legislative battle. He accused Dally of attempting to supersede cookie legislation he has been introducing since 1998.

    Thompson’s push for an official cookie began as an attempt to help a fourth-grade elementary school class in his district understand how a bill becomes law. The cookie bill seemed a reasonably simple way to illustrate the legislative process.

    Five years later, he’s still trying to get the bill passed. Thompson’s cookie bills have never come before the entire Senate. For that, he blames Charles Lemmond, the Luzerne County Republican who serves as chairman of the Senate’s State Government Committee.

    “Sen. Lemmond supports the general idea of a state cookie,” Thompson said. “But he’s allergic to chocolate, so he never lets my bill out of committee.”

    If you think Thompson is considering giving up, you’re wrong.

    “Those fourth-graders, they’re in high school now,” he said. “They deserve some resolution to this before they graduate.”

    Neither Dally nor Thompson sees much room for compromise on the cookie controversy.

    “I don’t think they make chocolate chip sugar cookies, so I don’t see how you could compromise,” Dally said.

    Thompson doesn’t see a need to do so. In his mind, the chocolate chip cookie is clearly the superior choice. “We don’t produce any sugar cane in Pennsylvania,” he correctly said. “How can a sugar cookie be our state cookie?”

    Despite the increasingly bitter debate, Thompson can envision tackling even more divisive issues in the future.

    “Wait until we choose between the square dance and the polka as the official state dance,” he said.


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