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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Smile, Mr. Secretary, you’re on candid camera

OLYMPIA – When a federal Cabinet secretary stopped by the Capitol last week, trying to prod the Legislature into action on a big multi-state project, he got a warm welcome from Gov. Jay Inslee. Not so much from Senate Republicans.

So what would one expect for a member of a Democratic president’s administration? you might be thinking. Considering it was Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican congressman, some folks were expecting something a bit more politic.

LaHood was in town to push the Columbia River Crossing, a bridge between Vancouver and Portland is the most controversial topic in Southwest Washington. Take the heat the North-South Freeway generated in its earlier days, multiply it by 10, and you might get to the animosity between supporters and opponents of the CRC. . .

. . . When LaHood and Inslee stopped by the Senate Republican Caucus room to urge them to pass a transportation budget in it with money for the bridge, and thus allow the state to get its hands on lots of federal money, he was, to put it mildly, rebuffed by opponents like Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver. All while someone was videotaping the exchange.

Later that day Inslee and LaHood held a press conference in the governor’s conference room to make a public appeal for the Legislature to vote for money for the bridge. As soon as they left, Benton emerged from the back of the room to hold a counter press conference to say that it shouldn’t. The senator’s office later  circulated a press release exclaiming he had “schooled” LaHood on the bridge and declared the score “Benton 1, transportation secretary 0”. the caucus sent out a link to a YouTube clip of their discussion in the caucus room.

This appalled Senate Democrats, who thought a cabinet secretary should be treated with a greater modicum of respect, and shouldn’t be taping conversations without his permission. Senate Republicans promptly took the video clip off YouTube, and  Majority Leader Rodney Tom of Medina later teol the Seattle Times it had been inadvertently posted, although how it could be edited with an intro, sent to YouTube, a link created and connected to a tweet isn’t immediately clear. But they didn’t pull down the video before Democratic staff had captured and saved it, reposting it for anyone wondering what all the fuss was about. (Concerns about taping without permission apparently don't extend to reposting.)

LaHood got a letter of apology from Senate Democrats for his reception by Senate Republicans. Inslee got a letter from the Republican-dominated Majority Caucus asking for a formal investigation of CRC contracts and spending.

A vote on the state’s transportation budget, which would contain the bridge funding, has yet to be scheduled.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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