Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law Tuesday a bill making the Columbian Mammoth the official state fossil, an idea that was expected to sail through the Statehouse but picked up surprising opposition.
Eight-year-old Olivia McConnell of Lake City started the effort after she and her father went to a restaurant whose menu lists the state's official symbols. "I asked Dad, 'Is there a state fossil?' And he said, 'No there's not.' And I love fossils and science and I decided I must do something about it," she says.
She wrote a letter to Gov. Haley outlining her reasons for wanting the mammoth to be named the state fossil. "Number one, only 7 states in America don't have a state fossil. Number two, the first fossil found in North America was found in South Carolina. Third, fossils tell us a lot about our past," she explains.
But the bill hit roadblocks in the state Senate. First, Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, tried to stop it. He told senators the state already has too many state symbols and didn't need any more, so he proposed a moratorium on naming any new ones. The state has more than 50 state symbols, including an official state amphibian and official state dance. But then he heard from Olivia and a lot of others around the state.
"I just didn't want to break the third-graders heart, so I capitulated and let it go," he says. "But at some point, we've got to put an end to all these official state whatevers."
But that wasn't the end of the debate. Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, put up an amendment to add language to the bill saying the mammoth was created on the sixth day of creation. "I felt like it's a great creature and it would be a good time to acknowledge the Creator," he says. "Didn't want to hold up the bill."
That amendment passed in the Senate but not in the House, so he let it go without that language.
Gov. Haley says even though the bill took a lot more effort to pass than expected, "I love what happened. And the reason I love what happened is because it showed every one of these kids that fighting for something isn't easy. You know, sometimes doing these things you have to go through some road blocks, and what you saw was Olivia saw debate first hand."
After signing the bill, Gov. Haley gave Olivia the pen she used, the bill itself, and autographed a giant copy of Olivia's original letter to the governor.
When asked whether she was ever worried her bill wouldn't become law, Olivia says, "Not really. I knew we could get it passed, it just needed a lot of hard work and dedication."
The Columbian Mammoth is a different species than the better-known woolly mammoth. The woolly mammoth had longer hair and was smaller. The Columbian was about 14 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed from 8 to 10 tons. The woolly mammoth was about 11 feet tall and weighed 6 to 8 tons. They existed from about 2.6 million years ago until about 11,700 years ago.