Best known today as the drawling TV pitchman for his own popular brand of sausage, Dean stands accused of using his influence to get a leg up in Virginia's selection of a new state song. His ditty "Virginia," cowritten with wife Donna, 46, leads a pack of eight finalists—thanks, say critics, to his friendship with, and contributions to, Virginia Sen. Stephen H. Martin, who is on a subcommittee that will choose the song. Others carp that the Deans sent free sausages to schoolchildren, who then wrote letters supporting the song. "We don't know anything about that," says an indignant Donna Dean. "We've never asked children to write about our song."
The whole mess started in 1997, when Virginia legislators retired "Carry Me Back to Old Virginia," an 1875 I spiritual with lines like, "That's where I labored so hard for my old massa." The contest for a new state song—a winner isn't expected for months—drew 339 entries, including the one that Donna Dean says she composed in the throes of a migraine.
This is hardly the first such squabble to cause headaches. New Jersey nearly chose Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" before legislators realized the lyrics suggested Bruce longed to see Jersey in his rearview mirror. In Washington, officials narrowly voted down a 1985 resolution to make "Louie Louie" the state anthem. Some states are blessed with a classic, notably Oklahoma with "Oklahoma!" Other songs are, perhaps understandably, more obscure (see above).
Whatever happens in Virginia, Dean suggests, he'll have won a victory of sorts. "As long as they keep talking about my sausages," he says with a grin, "I really don't care."
Government scandals involving pork are nothing new. But how many involve actual breakfast sausage? One too many, according to crooner Jimmy Dean. "We're the front-runners, and that means people take shots at you," says Dean, 71. "But I don't care what they say."