Arizona lawmakers served up Jurassic pork Thursday, agreeing on a bill to name not one, but two official state dinosaurs.
It all began in January, with the seemingly simple premise of a state senator helping a 9-year-old boy who wanted an official state dinosaur. But throw in the Legislature's usual web of competing interests and politics, and the result was a Godzilla-size debate."Dinosaurs are dead everywhere but in the Arizona Legislature," noted dino-bill observer Sen. Randall Gnant, R-Scottsdale.
After he was approached by the boy, Chris Fathauer, Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, suggested the state recognize Dilophosaurus as the official state dinosaur.
Huppenthal thought it would be a good way for kids to follow an issue they cared about through the legislative process.
The 20-foot-long, 2,000-pound beast roamed northern Arizona 200 million years ago, preying upon smaller animals. It was the inspiration for the poison-spitting critter that devoured portly actor Wayne Knight in "Jurassic Park."
With the lack of a strong vegetarian lobby at the Capitol, Dilophosaurus seemed like a slam dunk.
But the dino's preference for the northern clime vexed some in southern Arizona, who feared anointing Dilophosaurus might tip the paleontological balance of power.
The dino debate instantly became became political dino-mite. That surprised Susan Fathauer, Chris' mother, because the bill was initially supposed to be for kids.
"When it got into north vs. south, it took the kids out of it," Fathauer said. "It became political."
Southern advocates pressed their case.
Gerard Tsonakwa, who volunteers for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, pointed out that Dilophosaurus was excavated in 1942 by a bunch of carpetbagger paleontologists from the University of California-Berkeley.
UC Berkeley retains the remains.
Conveniently, the Tucson museum had another suggestion: Sonorasaurus.
The long-necked plant eater, which has been found only in Arizona, was discovered by Arizona paleontologists near Sonoita and is being excavated. Its remains eventually will be displayed in the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.
The specimen being excavated likely was 50 feet long and 12 feet tall.
Further clouding the case for Dilophosaurus is the fact the dino was taken from Navajo lands without permission, Tsonakwa said.
"It seems kind of ridiculous to me that a state emblem would be chosen that was stolen off of Navajo lands and doesn't even reside here in Arizona," he said. "It's lost to our paleontological history."
Now Navajo Nation officials are talking about trying to have the Dilophosaurus remains returned. Bessie Yellowhair, a Navajo Nation official, pointed out that paleontologists who took the remains violated Navajo sovereignty and property rights.
Huppenthal said he understands the Navajo concerns, but added that selecting Dilophosaurus could aid the Navajo Nation in recovering the remains.
After a brief discussion, the Senate Education Committee approved an amendment by Sen. Victor Soltero, D-Tucson, to adopt both dinosaurs. The bill now moves on to the Senate floor.
And what does the kid who started all this think? Chris is happy because he wants a state dinosaur, but he still likes Dilophosaurus.