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GOP spends one hour talking about 15 seconds

Sun., June 3, 2012, midnight

TACOMA – An axiom of academic politics is that they tend to be very nasty because very little is at stake.

The axiom can sometimes be applied to partisan or “real” politics, particularly at a time like this, when one major party is trying to get its president re-elected and the other has a nominee with all the delegates he needs to be the nominee. Why, then, would sensible people give up their weekends, travel scores or hundreds of miles, and argue over seemingly minute changes in obscure rules, like Saturday morning’s debate on whether would-be delegates to the national convention should speak for 30 seconds or 15 seconds when making the pitch to fellow partisans that they should have the privilege of traveling to Tampa, paying exorbitant rates for meals and hotel rooms?

Such rule changes may sound as esoteric as the old apocryphal debate on how many angels can dance on the point of a pin – a finite number, according to one physicist’s computations, but one that can’t be written easily here – until one realizes that with some 259 Washingtonians competing for 10 openings, the change represents roughly an hour of speechifying. An hour in the lives of the 1,561 delegates gathered at the Tacoma Convention Center that will never be recovered.

A similar proposal to drop the speaking time from 60 seconds to 30 seconds ate up nearly an hour of Friday’s convention. It passed, but took up more time than would have been used by would-be delegates running for other positions that afternoon.

The proposal, from supporters of Mitt Romney, prompted a “floor fight” between them and supporters of Ron Paul, and served as a test of strength for the two sides. Romney had the numbers and prevailed, but the whole thing came after leaders of the two factions announced they had reached agreement on convention rules, including the one-minute speech limit, in what Romney leader Diane Tebelius had described as a “kumbayah moment.”

Moments are indefinite, but fleeting, periods of time.

It even took State GOP Chairman Kirby Wilbur, who was presiding over his fourth state convention, by surprise: “I think it was a silly move.”

Doubled up

Many years, Democrats and Republicans schedule their conventions in the same city, on different weekends. This year, they scheduled them on the same weekend, in different cities. Which created a problem for reporters who were unable to be in two places at once.

The Spokesman-Review opted for the Republicans because there was some doubt as to how many national delegates Mitt Romney would get, and there was no doubt Barack Obama would get all the Democratic delegates.

We’ll look for links to coverage of the Democrats’ Seattle convention to post on the blog.

A choice at 1

It could be argued that people who bring small children to state conventions should be reported to Child Protective Services. But one might also admire a politician who shows up with his own baby to kiss, or to have as a reason for a celebration.

So Spin Control will not drop a dime on Michael Baumgartner, the current state senator from Spokane who would like to be the next U.S. senator from Washington. As is required for someone aspiring to such high office, Baumgartner and his campaign staff had a table in the hall outside the state convention and worked the crowd. Also in attendance were Baumgartner’s wife, Eleanor, and their son Conrad, who had the good or bad fortune to turn 1 on Friday.

Not to let an opportunity go to waste, Baumgartner enlisted former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton to help with a Gorton family ritual. On a child’s first birthday, he or she was presented with three items: a coin, a book and a bottle. The one the child picked up supposedly foreshadowed his or her future.

A coin meant they would be good at business; a book meant a scholar, and a bottle meant they’d be “sociable.” Gorton said he picked the book.

With many Eastern Washington convention goers watching, the three choices were placed before Conrad, who quickly chose the coin. Perhaps he’ll grow up to provide the financial support for a politician father, the elder Baumgartner said.

To be fair, it should be noted that young Conrad may have been swayed by something that happened a few minutes earlier, when he grabbed a foil-wrapped chocolate coin and munched it long enough to break through to the chocolate. The actual quarter he chose seemed a bit of a disappointment before it was quickly removed from his grasp.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia reporterJim Camden, also appears online at spincontrol.

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