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With time running out for the Legislature, Gov. Inslee voices support for Patches Pal plate

A group of local Patches Pals are hoping the Washington State Legislature will pass a bill this session to create a J.P. Patches and Gertrude specialty license plate in honor of beloved Northwest children's TV performers Chris Wedes and Bob Newman. (Courtesy Curt Hanks)

All eyes this week are on a legislative body weighing a decision absolutely critical to the future of American democracy.

Yes, as you’ve likely already guessed, the Washington State Legislature must decide whether or not to approve a J.P. Patches and Gertrude specialty license plate.

And while time is running out, Patches Pals from all walks of life are voicing their support.

Today is the 63rd anniversary of the debut of J.P. Patches on KIRO TV back in 1958, from which springs the phenomenon that is “J.P. Patches and Gertrude” – hosts of a kids TV show for 23 years, progenitors of the Patches Pal checklist, made immortal by a statue in Fremont, and community icons still – 40 years after the show went off the air, nine years after Chris Wedes (who played JP) died, and just a few months after Bob Newman (who played Gertrude) passed away, too.

Thus, the timing couldn’t be better to highlight an effort to create a specialty license plate honoring J.P. and Gertrude and the Patches Pals, as the dedicated fans call themselves.

Specialty plates are different than regular license plates — you’ve seen them before, touting state universities, law enforcement, and recreational pursuits such as skiing. The specialty plates function just like regular plates as far as the Department of Licensing (DOL) is concerned, but they have their own design, and they cost more than regular plates, with the extra proceeds supporting a related nonprofit.  According to Christine Anthony of the DOL, the WSU plate is the most popular – there are more than 20,000 of those out on the streets – and the Seahawks plate is number two with about 15,000.

The J.P. & Gertrude plate is the brainchild of a group of dedicated Patches Pals – let’s call them Patches Plate Pals. One of them is Chris Rimple. He’s in his 50s, lives in Burien, and works in tech. He’s a Patches Pal from way back, and he’s helping lead the effort to get the DOL to create a plate, which actually requires the Washington State Legislature to weigh in; the DOL’s role in the new plate effort was completed a few years ago.

Rimple told KIRO Radio that this year and this session in Olympia is his group’s fourth attempt to get the Legislature to enact the necessary law.

“We’ve tried and failed to get all the way to the governor’s desk the last three years after having strong bipartisan support simply because the Legislature has run out of time,” Rimple said. “They’ve had too much to do, and specialty plates have been on the back burner, frankly.”

The lawmaking effort came incredibly close last year, but ultimately stalled in the state Senate. But this didn’t deter Rimple and the rest of the J.P. and Gertrude license plate boosters.

“We’ve been fortunate to find a sponsor this year who was willing to bring the bill forward, and it currently sits with the House Transportation Committee, and we just need to see it moved forward,” Rimple said. “Again, it’s got strong bipartisan support, and we would love to see it get to the governor’s desk this year.”

The work required to have gotten this far in the specialty plate process is pretty intense. The group collected 3,500 signatures from people who pledged to buy a plate when they’re available, and then submitted a $6,300 fee. They also worked with the DOL and noted graphic designer/Patches Pal Curt Hanks to design the plate, which features a colorful vintage photo of J.P. and Gertrude from around 1970.

Rimple acknowledges that the Legislature’s work on COVID-related issues has meant even less time to focus on other things, like specialty license plates. But Rimple says that along with the joy that the late TV clowns can still bring people via a license plate, there’s an important charitable side of the J.P. & Gertrude plate that also shouldn’t get lost in the shuffle: Seattle Children’s.

“The beneficiary of the sale of the plates is not the state or some random organization,” Rimple said. “It’s going directly toward cancer research for children, which of course is a very worthy cause, and Seattle Children’s has a long history of association with J.P. Patches and with Chris Wedes, the actor who portrayed him.”

Eve Kopp of Seattle Children’s says the hospital is grateful to partner with the Patches Pals on the license plate, and says the money generated by the plate would not be an insignificant amount.

“My understanding is the new Patches Pals plates would cost $77.25 for a regular passenger vehicle,” Kopp said, “and $28 would benefit cancer immunotherapy research at Seattle Children’s.”

“It was effectively his favorite charity throughout his life,” Chris Rimple said of Seattle Children’s.

Wedes, like Russell Wilson decades later, was a frequent and incredibly popular visitor to what was then called Children’s Orthopedic Hospital. A playroom was even named for J.P. in the 1970s, though Eve Kopp says it was since renamed the Oki Family Playroom, for the philanthropists Scott and Laurie Oki, who are major donors to Seattle Children’s.

In spite of the work put in by the Patches Plate Pals – and in spite of those potential funds for Seattle Children’s for cancer research – the Patches Pal plate itself hangs in the balance, buffeted by the shifting winds of politics, priorities, and the pandemic.

At the moment, the J.P. Patches and Gertrude specialty license plate bill – HB 1374 – is sitting on the virtual desk of the House Transportation Committee Chair, Representative Jake Fey, Democrat of Tacoma. This means it’s up to Representative Fey to decide whether or not to schedule the bill for review by the House Transportation Committee. If he schedules a hearing for the bill, the Patches Pal plate moves forward; if he doesn’t schedule a hearing, the plate effort stalls for at least another year.

Rep. Fey told KIRO Radio on Tuesday that the pandemic has indeed made his job tougher, especially when it comes to making time to review what might not be considered critical legislation.

“We’re in a tough situation, both in terms of the pandemic and also in the fact that we’re doing a virtual legislative session,” Rep. Fey said. “And on the House Democratic side of things, we have agreed to be very careful about the kinds of bills that we introduce. There are bills that have to do with the pandemic, with climate change, with equity for disadvantaged communities.”

“J.P. Patches doesn’t kind of fit into those criteria,” Fey said. “And we have limited time to move bills.”

While Fey appears to be the sole gatekeeper at the moment, he also told KIRO Radio that he plans to meet virtually with his counterpart in the State Senate – that’s Steve Hobbs, Democrat from Lake Stevens, and Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee — and that the two will discuss the prospects for the Patches Pal plate bill. Fey says that for the bill to become law, even if the House Transportation Committee and then the full House does pass it, the Senate also needs to take it up and put it through their own committee-to-full-chamber process before it would go to the governor to be signed into law.

Given this big decision that Fey has to make sometime in the next week or so, it’s no surprise that Chris Rimple and the other Patches Plate Pals are encouraging people – especially Patches Pals – to share their opinion with the state Legislature about the license plate, and the value of approving it – even during, or maybe even especially during, the pandemic.

“We’ve even tried to make it as easy as possible for Patches Pals to do so,” Rimple said, the tech guy part of him temporarily eclipsing the Patches Pals part. “If you go to, we have pre-written emails that you can send. There’s even clickable links that can open in your mail client to send for you.”

“We’re trying to keep people very well informed about where we are in the process and how they can help us,” Rimple said.

KIRO Radio also contacted Governor Jay Inslee’s office to see if he had taken any position on HB-1374, and to also confirm whether or not the leader of the Evergreen State is, in fact, a Patches Pal.

A spokesperson initially declined to comment on the Patches Pal plate, and said via email that the Governor generally does not comment on pending legislation unless he or one of his agencies has requested the particular legislation.

But then, a second spokesperson weighed in.

“He definitely watched the show and was a fan,” wrote Tara Lee, Executive Director of  Communications for Governor Inslee. “He says he does support this license plate.”

And Gov. Inslee officially considers himself a Patches Pal, too, Lee added.

Remember that J.P. and Gertrude phenomenon mentioned above? It apparently can work its magic in the halls of power in Olympia, too.

With all this support from Patches Pals – and the very rare and highly unusual support for the legislation by one Patches Pal in particular (who lives in a mansion in Olympia) – what does this mean for Representative Fey as he weighs his options and the fast-approaching end of the Legislative session?

“I’m sure [Governor Inslee is] in favor of it because he might have been a Patches Pal himself and can relate to this,” Fey said. “I mean, he’s close to my age. But they generally don’t weigh in on bills like this.”

Does the fact that Gov. Inslee did weigh in with his support make this pending bill special?

“Well, yes, I suppose it makes it special,” Representative Fey said.

Does this mean the pressure is on?

“Yeah, the pressure is on,” Fey said, with a chuckle. “I can hardly wait for those thousands and thousands of emails to come in now.”

“I makes me wonder why I agreed to this interview,” Fey added, his chuckle turning to full-on laughter.

To share your opinion on the Patches Pal plate with key members of the Washington State Legislature, visit the license plate page at

But please remember that the old Patches Pal checklist, along with its admonitions to clean your plate and to say your prayers, also says to always be polite!

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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