Oke memorial bill dies in Senate

A bill proposing to name the new span of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge after the late Sen. Bob Oke is no longer viable as it failed to clear the Washington State Senate by last week’s deadline.

Sen. Derek Kilmer, (D-Gig Harbor), said the deadline for bills to pass either the Senate or House was Feb. 19, and Senate Joint Memorial 8026 had remained in the Senate Rules Committee since it passed the Transportation Committee Feb. 6.

“Bills that aren’t necessary to implement the budget needed to have passed by Tuesday (Feb. 19) at 5 p.m.,” said Kilmer, explaining that the bill is now dead.

But while SJM-8026 may not pass this legislative session, the chance of naming the span after Oke is not necessarily completely dead.

Reema Griffith, executive di-rector of the Washington State Transportation Commission, said passing a legislative recommendation such as a joint memorial is only one way to get a state facility renamed.

“The community could initiate it,” Griffith said, adding that so far the commission has received inquiries via telephone regarding the process, but hasn’t received “anything in writing.”

Griffith said the process of initiating the naming of a facility such as a bridge without a legislative memorial is explained on the commission’s Web site, and involves:

• An interested party (contacting) the commission to establish their interest ... and (providing) sufficient evidence to the commission indicating community support and acceptance of the proposal.

• Evidence of community support and acceptance may include: letters of support from local state and federal representatives; resolutions passed by local, publicly elected bodies in the area of the facility; department support; and supportive action by or letters from local organizations such as local chambers of commerce or service clubs.

However, at least one local representative said such community support for naming the bridge after Oke does not exist.

“The overwhelming majority (of my constituents) do not want his name attached to the bridge,” said Rep. Larry Seaquist, (D-Gig Harbor), explaining that he based this belief on the e-mails, phone calls and comments he’s received.

His 26th District colleague, Rep. Pat Lantz, (D-Gig Harbor), said she also did not want to have the bridge renamed for Oke, and predicted that if it had left the Senate, it would never have passed the House.

“There is no interest in (SJM- 8026) in the house,” Lantz said earlier this month. “There is no one from the (26th) District championing the idea in the house.”

Lantz said the fact that there is still simmering resentment over Oke working to have the bridge built is exactly why she thinks it is a bad idea to have his name etched on it.

“Why ruin a lovely new bridge with a name that has such negative connotations?” Lantz said, explaining that she was not trying to be disrespectful of the late senator, but rather respectful, adding that there were “better ways to memorialize (Oke).”

As an example, Lantz suggested the idea of naming Long Lake County Park after him instead, since the lake recently benefitted from a research and clean-up program championed by Oke. “That would be a wonderful tribute to him. We have such huge respect for him, and it was great to have (Oke) be out in front in getting the money for that project.”

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