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They don’t negotiate in the media, unless they do

OLYMPIA – “I’m not going to negotiate in the news media.”
Politicians at all levels of government love to utter that sentence – when it’s to their advantage.
But let’s get real. If they think it will help their cause, their legislation or their budget, they like nothing better than to negotiate in the media. If they get angry, frustrated, boxed-in or closed out, they negotiate in the media.

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...Last week, Senate Republicans and their three disaffected Democratic allies didn’t just negotiate, they presented, explained and defended their latest budget last week in Olympia. This annoyed some other participants in ongoing budget negotiations, who were taken by surprise at getting that new budget at the same time as the news media and the rest of the public.
Among the most irked was Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has been the chief cat herder of the Legislature’s overtime budgeting process. When she took questions from reporters a few hours later, it’s a wonder the video didn’t show steam coming out her ears. She didn’t negotiate, mind you. But she did say that one thing Senate Republicans were proposing, charter schools, is DOA and lobbyists who want to see their bills signed better be calling legislators to give them a not-so-gentle push toward compromising.
But when it came to discussing what options she’s proposed for legislative leaders to consider, her answer was emphatic: “I’M not going to negotiate in the media.”
Protestations about negotiating in the media ring about as true as a similarly overworked axiom, that public officials have to go behind closed doors for executive sessions so members “can speak freely.” Makes one wonder what they’re self-censoring from their normal public comments.
In truth, everyone negotiates in the news media when it’s to their advantage, and complains about it when it’s not. The only way to remove one side grabbing the advantage is to open up the negotiations, and let the public in on the talks.
After all, they’re the ones who will be affected by the budget decisions. To those who say it could mess up the process, one might respond: “Because this is working so well?”

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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