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May 9, 2014

Letterman, Stewart mock NY Senate's yogurt debate

ALBANY, N.Y. — The New York Senate's debate about declaring yogurt the state's official snack was intended to teach a fourth-grade class about government. But it became a lesson on legislative silliness from David Lettermen and Jon Stewart.

The Senate spent 45 minutes this week debating the merits of the legislation, which was introduced at the urging of students from a dairy-producing area in western New York.

Before passing the bill, senators mulled the distinction between snacks and meals and whether other snacks were more deserving.

"What exactly are we defining as a snack?" asked Sen. Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat from the Bronx.

"I think it's self-explanatory. I mean, you have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then you have snacks," said the bill's Republican sponsor, Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer.

"Did you consider, say, the potato chip?" Rivera asked, posing the same question about raisins and pretzels. He then asked: "What if the pretzel was dipped in yogurt?"

Letterman and Stewart skewered the exchange on their shows, with Letterman playing video from the debate as part of a segment called "New York State: Your Tax Dollars at Work."

Stewart called the deliberations "maybe the best 40 minutes" of legislative debate ever.

"Even the fourth graders who brought this up in the first place are like, 'They're still talking about the state snack?'" Stewart said.

Some of the frivolity was staged as a parliamentary protest.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, wrote on Facebook that she asked silly questions — including one about the bill's implications for lactose-intolerant New Yorkers — to criticize the priorities of Senate leaders. If Senate leaders "make us talk about yogurt, then that's what we'll talk about until they give us something better to do," she wrote.

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