Lawmakers duel over state fair

Puyallup folks took the designation last year, but that apparently doesn’t sit well with Yakima

Staff writerJanuary 29, 2014 

Natalie Reetz, left, and David Abicht put the Washington State Fair name on the Sky Ride last summer. Did they consult with Yakima?

LUI KIT WONG/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

A battle of the fairs is brewing in Olympia, and legislators are taking sides.

The event formerly known as the Puyallup Fair changed its name to the Washington State Fair in 2013. It has the largest attendance of any fair in the state and is one of the largest in the world.

But its new name was not a designation decided by a legislative body. Instead, the change came as part of a rebranding effort by organizers of the fair.

“Many people already assumed it was the state fair,” said Karen LaFlamme, spokeswoman for the fair.

But now Republican Rep. Norm Johnson of Yakima wants the Legislature to designate the Central Washington Fair in Yakima the “Official State Fair of Washington.”

He claims he’s not looking to start a quarrel with Pierce County lawmakers. Rather, House Bill 2622 would be official recognition of the Central Washington Fair’s history as the state’s original fair, he said. His proposal would not require the Puyallup fair to rename itself yet again.

“In no way is Yakima wanting to take away from Puyallup,” Johnson said.

In 1893, the Legislature named the fledgling Yakima Fair the state fair of Washington. By 1936, the fair was losing money and popularity, and lawmakers abolished it.

Businessmen resurrected the event in 1939, calling it the Central Washington Fair. It has continued every year since, except during the war years of 1942-45.

The Washington State Fair in Puyallup has also seen many changes over the years. Launched in 1900 as the Valley Fair, it became the Western Washington Fair in 1913. It look on the Puyallup Fair name in 1976 and continued to operate under that name until its rebranding last year.

Republican Rep. Hans Zeiger, who represents Puyallup, said that when he first heard about Johnson’s proposal, he marched up to him and “told the good representative from Yakima exactly what I thought of his bill.”

“Obviously this bill is going nowhere,” Zeiger said. “It is a unifying bill that is bringing together legislators who represent Puyallup, the Evergreen State Fair (and the) Southwest Washington Fair.”

Rep. Dawn Morrell, a Puyallup Democrat and Zeiger’s seatmate, said the legislation isn’t the most pressing issue facing lawmakers this year.

“I truly think that with everything I’m working on … it’s kind of a funny thing to be doing this year,” Morrell said.

Johnson doesn’t want to start a rivalry between the two fairs, but he did have what some might consider fighting words.

“I think we have prettier buildings and grounds,” Johnson said.

House Bill 2622 will have a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday alongside measures that would designate a state waterfall and an official oyster. The hearing is before the House Government Operations and Elections Committee in Hearing Room E of the John L. O’Brien Building.

Zeiger said he’s planning to bring scones, presumably Fisher fair scones, for all members of the committee and one for Johnson, too.

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