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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Sunday Spin: Winning the rhetoric, losing the vote

OLYMPIA – There is an axiom in legislating, that when you have the votes to pass something, you shut up and cast them. When you don’t have the votes, you talk.

A corollary to that in this year’s legislative session seems to be that when you don’t have the votes, you offer up comments as quotable as possible. When you have the votes, you don’t need to be pithy or clever; you speak as little as possible, and cast them.

Thus it was on the floor of the House last week as legislators did battle over House Bill 2038, better know by Democrats as the close the tax loopholes to pay for education bill and by Republicans as the raise taxes and throw people out of work bill.

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. . . Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, suggested his legislative brethren were forgetting the folks back home: “We are a part-time Legislature. The people outside these walls are full-time taxpayers.”

This admonition might have had more weight if anyone had the faintest idea when the Legislature would actually retake on the mantle of being part-time by going home.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, gave fellow lawmakers a quick lesson in Latin, explaining the root of the word republic. But he managed a less pedantic and more evocative jab at the tax package’s emergency clause, which essentially guarantees it can’t be overturned by referendum: “It puts duct tape on the mouths of the people while simultaneously picking their pockets.”

Rep. Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way, seemed intent on using up as much time as possible before employing a familiar metaphor to trash the bill. Kochmar complimented presiding officer Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, on his nice nose – surprising several legislators, Moeller included. She then allowed as how other legislators, too, had nice noses, causing some to wonder: Where is this going?

“Why would we cut off our noses to spite our faces?” she demanded. “Where is the common sense in this?”

Quoth Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington: “This is lipstick on a pig. And that lipstick is very expensive.”

On it went, with some Republicans waxing eloquent, others relating anecdotes and some offering little more than the phrase of the day, “put this bill down”, as if it were a rabid Old Yeller and they were jointly holding the rifle.

Democrats spoke only sporadically, usually to note that the state has been cutting school programs for years, to the point where the state Supreme Court is on their case to knock it off and come up with more scratch. They don’t believe there’s enough to do that and keep other state programs going without the changes to tax law.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It’s basically the two sides of a debate that’s been going on since the session started. All the rhetoric did little to change the outcome – it passed 50-47.

Although a few Democrats voted no, Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said Democrats made their point with the vote count more than words: “It means we can pass revenue proposals to fund our budget.”

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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