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Spin Control: ‘Media’ negotiations are only problem when they don’t work

OLYMPIA – “I’m not going to negotiate in the news media.”

Politicians at all levels 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.

Last week, Senate Republicans and their three disaffected Democratic allies didn’t just negotiate, they presented, explained and defended their brand-new budget proposal in Olympia. This annoyed some other participants in ongoing closed-door budget negotiations, who were taken by surprise at getting that proposal 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 of her ears. She didn’t negotiate, mind you. 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 are a corollary to another theorem of public officialdom: that elected officials must discuss some things behind closed doors so they “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. Like John Kerry’s stance on the war in Iraq, they’re against it until they’re for it.

This is not to suggest the news media object to being “used.” When I complained about such feelings as a young reporter, my city editor explained that the main difference between political reporters and ladies of the evening (he actually used a different term) was that we wore less makeup. Use away; we’re on the clock. And with the Internet, we’ve got lots of space to fill.

But for negotiators, there is something else to consider: The only way to keep the other side from grabbing the advantage at an inopportune time is to open up the negotiations and let the public in on all the talks.

After all, they’re the ones affected by the budget decisions. To those who argue opening the doors might hurt the process, one might ask: “Because what you’re doing now is working so well?”

This election could be really special

Jay Inslee’s not-so-timely departure from Congress could result in a special election in Western Washington. Special the way the Church Lady used to say it on “Saturday Night Live.”

The secretary of state’s office is exploring the possibility of a special election this fall to fill the remainder of Inslee’s term in Washington’s 1st Congressional District. But here’s the catch: The 1st is undergoing radical change, courtesy of the Redistricting Commission, which regarded the district’s boundaries as extremely pliable because Inslee wasn’t seeking re-election and no one could complain it was being gerrymandered to make it easier or harder for him to keep his seat.

The election to fill out his term would take place among voters in the old 1st District. The election to fill the seat starting in 2013 would take place among voters in the new 1st District.

Some voters would be voting for two 1st District members of Congress. If that’s not confusing enough, others would be voting for a short-termer in the 1st and a new full-timer in another district, like the 6th.

Inslee’s resignation is effective on Tuesday. The replacement couldn’t take office until the election is certified on Dec. 6. So all of this would be for someone to hold the office for about a month, which has Christmas and New Year’s in it.

Had Inslee resigned before March 6, the state law would’ve required a special election this spring to fill the seat. As it is, the law says the “special election” coincides with the regular state primary and general.

Elections experts for the secretary of state and governor are studying the options. State Republicans are, not surprisingly, critical of Inslee’s timing.

Spin Control, a weekly column by Olympia bureau staff writer Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items, reader comments and videos at