When eight-year-old Olivia McConnell was perusing a menu at a restaurant that features all 50 of the official symbols of her home state of South Carolina, she noticed a glaring vacancy. South Carolina has a State American Folk Dance, a State Grass, a State Opera, even a State Lowcountry Handcraft, but—no offense to square dancing, Indian grass, Porgy and Bess, or sweet grass baskets intended—McConnell thought something was missing: a state fossil.
The third grader at Carolina Academy wrote a letter to her state lawmakers, Rep. Robert Ridgeway and Sen. Kevin Johnson, in a bid to give the woolly mammoth that honor. Olivia has sound reasons behind her nomination: One of the first discoveries of a fossil in North America was that of a woolly mammoth’s teeth, dug up by slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1725; all but seven states have an official state fossil; and, most adorably, “Fossils tell us about our past.”
Unfortunately for McConnell’s proposal, a pair of state senators with views as dusty as a mammoth’s bones is blocking her move to honor the furry fossil.
After Ridgeway and Johnson introduced a bill to amend the state’s code to include the Columbian Mammoth as the official state fossil of South Carolina, the state House passed it 94-3. The state Senate hasn’t been so accommodating.
Sen. Kevin Bryant, a pharmacist and self-described born-again Christian who has compared President Obama with Osama bin Laden, voted to sustain a veto by Governor Nikki Haley of funding for a rape crisis center, and called climate change a “hoax,” proposed amending the bill to include three verses from the Book of Genesis detailing God’s creation of the Earth and its living inhabitants—including mammoths.
Bryant told The Daily Beast that the intent was never to hijack the bill. “I think it’s a good idea to designate the mammoth as the state fossil, I don’t have a problem with that. I just felt like it’d be a good thing to acknowledge the creator of the fossils.”
Bryant’s proposed amendment was originally ruled out of order by Lt. Governor Glenn McConnell (no relation to Olivia) because it introduced a new subject. Bryant has since submitted a more on-topic amendment, describing the Columbian Mammoth “as created on the Sixth Day with the beasts of the field.”
In response to the lieutenant governor’s ruling, Sen. Mike Fair, a colleague of Bryant’s whose district includes the fundamentalist Bob Jones University, placed an objection on the bill. According to Bryant, Fair “had no intention of blocking the bill. He was just considering re-writing the amendment.”
“I think it’s very important that we acknowledge the Creator when we’re acknowledging some of his wonderful creations.”
Previously, Fair—whose Twitter feed is largely him trolling advocates for science education — blocked South Carolina from adopting new education standards regarding evolution because he preferred teaching the purported controversy. “To teach that natural selection is the answer to origins is wrong.” The National Center for Science Education has a comprehensive rundown of Fair’s previous attempts to keep South Carolina students from learning about Darwin, evolution, and “critical thinking.”
Bryant himself sees the connection some people might make between his move to include the divine nature of the woolly mammoth in the bill. “I do support the teaching of intelligent design—I have very similar views on that as Senator Fair. Still, this issue is symbolic—the teaching of intelligent design is not.”
For now, the bill is on hold, and McConnell is getting a lesson in state politics.
Perhaps a compromise can be reached: South Carolina’s official state fossil should be Senator Kevin Bryant. He may not be from the Pliocene Era, but his views sure are.