The Senate voted 46-4 tonight to make gold the state's official mineral.
Every session, these "official state" bills raise laughs, and occasionally hackles, as lawmakers battle over what item - from berries to birds to reptiles to shad festival - deserves the honor of the title. An attempt a few years ago to name an official state barbecue nearly started an vinegar-tomato war on the House floor.
But as far as "state mineral" goes, gold apparently didn't face a serious rival.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said he filed the bill on behalf of Cathy Dalimonte's fourth-grade class at Clyde Erwin Magnet Elementary in Jacksonville. "I spoke to them and went through the process of how bills are created in the General Assembly," he said. "I guess they took it to heart."
Shortly after that, the class asked him to run the bill that became S129 because of gold's prominent role in state history.
"The first authenticated discovery of gold in the US was in North Carolina in 1799," Brown explained, adding that NC was the only gold-producing state in the union from 1803 to 1828, and remained the top gold-producing state until the Gold Rush in 1848.
In fact, Brown said, the Federal Reserve minted gold coins in Charlotte from 1838 till the start of the Civil War in 1861.
Four senators voted against it, including Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, who's from Spruce Pine, home of the state mineral and gem festival.
Hise caught up with Brown in the hallway after session. "I didn't want to jump all over your fourth-grade class," Hise told Brown, "but my quartz industry and my feldspar industry would eat me to pieces if I voted for it."
And Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, offered another interesting fact: NC's first discovery of gold in 1799 was at Little Meadow Creek in Cabarrus County, at what was to become the Reed Mine. It was a gold nugget weighing 17 pounds, and was actually used as a doorstop for a while until folks figured out what it was.
The Reed Mine's first manager was John Hartsell, the common ancestor of both Senator Fletcher Hartsell and state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco.
"Keith's mother was a Hartsell," the senator explained, joking, "He got the nugget, and I got the shaft."
The measure now goes to the House.