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Pluto politics hits Springfield
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 2/20/2009 12:01 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - Like some sort of rulers of the universe, state lawmakers are considering restoring little Pluto's planetary status, casting aside the scientific community's 2006 decision downgrading the distant ice ball.

An Illinois Senate committee on Thursday unanimously supported planet Pluto and declaring March 13 "Pluto Day." The idea now moves to the full Senate for a vote.

The push for a state decree on Pluto comes from state Sen. Gary Dahl, a Republican whose downstate district includes Streator, birthplace of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh. Dahl told colleagues Pluto is important to the local community, which considers the vote to downgrade Pluto to "dwarf" planet was unfair as it involved only 4 percent of the International Astronomical Union's 10,000 scientists.

Dahl noted that Tombaugh is the only American ever to discover a planet. Tombaugh first detected Pluto in 1930 at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

Dahl called Thursday's committee vote a key step forward, not only for Pluto and Streator, but also for bipartisan cooperation in the Senate. He said previous Democratic leadership sat on the proposal last year but new Senate President John Cullerton let it advance.

Cullerton cast a humorous light on the vote in view of the recent partisan turmoil over political appointments and special elections in the state.

"I supported Senator Dahl's effort even though I was kind of surprised that apparently Pluto was decommissioned as a planet by a vote of scientists. But he claimed the vote was a very small percentage of the scientists," Cullerton said. "So he ... chose to have us basically appoint Pluto to be a planet rather than have a special election among the scientists."