While strong support exists in the Washington State Senate for a bill that suggests naming the new span of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge after the late Sen. Bob Oke, at least one local representative said the feeling is not the same in the House.
“There is no interest in (Senate Joint Memorial 8026) in the house,” said Rep. Pat Lantz, (D-Gig Harbor), referring to the bill that was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee and passed on to the Rules Committee last week. “There is no one from the (26th) district championing the idea in the house.”
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Derek Kilmer, (D-Gig Harbor), who said he felt naming half of the bridge after Sen. Oke would be “an appropriate acknowledgment” of the legislator’s service to his community.
“Regardless of your feelings about the bridge, and there are a lot of people with negative feelings about the bridge, it is hard not to acknowledge (his) commitment to seeing that bridge built,” Kilmer said.
However, 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. “I don’t think it’s proper to have his name associated with such rancor.”
Lantz said many people’s “dismay over the bridge and the tolls is still very close to the surface,” and having Oke’s name on the span would therefore serve as an uncomfortable reminder.
“With all due respect to Sen. Oke, there are better ways to memorialize him,” she continued, pointing to ideas such as putting his name on Long Lake County Park, which 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. It never would have happened without him, and was simply due to his infamous tenacity.”
Another reason Lantz said she was not supporting naming the bridge after Oke was simply because she likes the name it has already.
“It is already properly and descriptively named as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which is an iconic name,” she said, comparing it to Snoqualmie Pass and other transportation facilities that are named after their location, rather than people. “Fifty years from now, no one will have a clue who Bob Oke is.”
When asked if she was still against the renaming if only one span was named after Sen. Oke and the older span remained the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, Lantz said she was, adding, “it doesn’t need two names.”
Lantz’s 26th District colleague Rep. Larry Seaquist, (D-Gig Harbor), said his position on naming the new span after Oke was also a “firm ‘no.’
“While I certainly respect the memory of Bob Oke, I do not think the bridge should be renamed,” Seaquist said, explaining that he felt it was inappropriate for two reasons.
First, he said he did not think the legislature should be renaming pieces of the state infrastructure, and, secondly, based on e-mails, phone calls and comments he’s received in person from his constituents, they do not support the idea.
“The overwhelming majority do not want his name attached to the bridge,” Seaquist said.
If SJM 8026 passes the Senate and ultimately the House — which Lantz predicted would not happen — it would serve as only a recommendation for naming the bridge after the senator, as the Washington State Transportation Commission ultimately decides on naming such facilities.