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Butter

In this Nov. 30, 2010, file photo, dairy department worker Logan Fassnacht tends the butter section at Metcalfe's Market in Madison.

 

There's a reason why a seminal, 1990s hip hop group would dis margarine. Why the saying isn't "smooth as margarine." Why it wasn't margarine that served as the narrative center of Dr. Seuss' 1984 Cold War allegory, which is not entitled "The Margarine Battle Book."

It's because butter is better. Unfortunately, that isn't stopping a 32-year-old first-term state representative and native Illinoisan from disparaging this part of the Dairy State's bread and, well, butter.

Republican Dale Kooyenga, who resides in Brookfield when not attacking cherished Wisconsin food products at the Capitol (did I mention he was born in Illinois?), wants to repeal a law that in some cases forces restaurants to provide butter to diners.

The 44-year-old law is silly, antiquated and anti-free market, he claims, and it is. But so what? There's no shortage of silly, antiquated, anti-free market laws.

Besides, it's not as if Wisconsin lawmakers don't already labor to protect the dairy industry with grants for modernizing farms, federal earmarks for the state's Value Added Dairy Initiative, and other help.

If Kooyenga wanted to win points with the John McCain, good government crowd, he should come out against those.

As it is, even those who end up paying for the state butter mandate — consumers and Wisconsin restaurants — don't seem to have a problem with it. 

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The Wisconsin Restaurant Association has taken no position on Kooyenga's bill, and state regulators only get one or two complaints about the law being broken each year.

Susan Quam, executive director of the WRA's education foundation, also said the law doesn't necessarily require all restaurants to serve butter, only that it be available if margarine is.

Kooyenga did not respond to my inquiries, but perhaps he sees repealing the butter law as just a first battle in the longer, entirely worthwhile war to make government more efficient. Who knows? Perhaps one day he'll get elected to Congress and try to repeal the redundant Department of Education (most education decisions and funding being local and state matters) or some of the nation's 16 spy agencies.

In the meantime, Brad Legreid, executive director of the Wisconsin Dairy Products Association, which represents dairy processors, will fight his butter-busting bill. While he understands there is a move nationwide toward smaller government, Wisconsin is identified with dairy, and the butter law is good for dairy farmers.

"There's some things that are very important in the state," he said.

Government giving advantages to beloved home-state products can hurt the ability to get the a better, cheaper version of the product made elsewhere. But we can afford a little sentimentality when the laws are as innocuous as this one.

"Believe in thy butter," advised Dr. Seuss. And in its laws, businesses and economy, Wisconsin does. Margarine's just a poseur.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or crickert@madison.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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