Bridge’s naming shouldn’t be the crowning insult

When the question of naming the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge after former 26th District State Sen. Bob Oke was first raised last fall, we wrongly assumed a measure to that effect would sail through the state Legislature this year with little or no opposition.

It didn’t. In fact, the resolution died in the Senate Rules Committee without ever making it to the floor of the legislative body in which Oke served for so many years until his death last summer — just before the bridge was scheduled for completion.

Given the rapturous ovation Oke received from his fellow lawmakers when announcing his departure from the Senate, we just naturally assumed naming the bridge after the person most responsible for assuring its construction would be a no-brainer. But anyone who believed that badly underestimated the degree of resentment among Oke’s constituents the bridge has engendered — particularly for those commuters now obliged to pay $3 a pop (and soon to be $4) for a trip that used to be free.

At this point, with the bridge completed and the onerous tolls a fact of life, there seems little point in reiterating all the reasons we opposed building the span in the first place. But while we were open to the idea of memorializing Oke by naming the bridge in his honor when the matter was originally suggested, we have a problem with the backdoor efforts to keep the idea alive being engaged in by his friends and well-wishers now that the Legislature has issued its decision.

Over the past few weeks, Oke’s widow, Judy, along with other friends and family members, have appeared before the Port Orchard City Council and, most recently, the Port of Bremerton commissioners seeking — and obtaining — purely symbolic expressions of support for naming the bridge in the late senator’s honor.

Backers have also launched a petition drive hoping to obtain enough signatures to persuade the state’s Transportation Committee to do what the Senate declined to do.

While we respect the passion and commitment of Mrs. Oke to her husband’s legacy, however, we think it would be a cruel irony if the decision to attach his name to the bridge permanently were made by bureaucratic fiat rather than a representative vote, for example in the Legislature.

Lest we forget, in the 1998 advisory election held to decide whether or not the bridge would be built in the first place, more than 60 percent of Oke’s district opposed the plan. But Oke, displaying either character or callousness, depending on your perspective, continued to support the plan and eventually ramrodded its approval through the Legislature.

Again, if the same Legislature had voted this year — or next year, or any other year — to name the bridge after Oke, we wouldn’t have a problem with the idea.

What bothers us is that, having had their wishes so thoroughy ignored the first time around, we think it would be a second slap in the face if the question of whether to lionize Oke for having done so were forced down his former constituents’ throats in much the same fashion as before.

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