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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: Something rare from a politician: A sincere apology

OLYMPIA – In the Legislature, if there is a corollary to the rule “one good turn deserves another,” it is “one stupid thing begets another.”

So it was late last month when a Yakima senator seemed to reach back to the 1960s for terminology to describe minorities during discussion of a bill that would have allowed the state to gather better data about racial disparities in some of its social programs.

“Generally accepted that the poor are more likely to commit crimes. And generally accepted that people of color are more likely poor than not. So how does that factor into your equation?” Sen. Jim Honeyford asked Jim Steiger of the state Caseload Forecast Council at a Senate Ways and Means Committee meeting.

Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, quickly objected: “I’d just like to push back on that comment, saying that people of color commit more crimes.” There may be more people of color in jail, Hasegawa said, but the types of analysis the bill was calling for might help explain the root cause of that disparate treatment.

“I just want to correct what I said,” Honeyford broke in. “I said the poor are more likely to commit crimes and colored most likely to be poor … and I believe that’s an accepted fact. If you check any of your sociology books or anything else you’ll find that’s an accepted fact in our society.”

This little colloquy created a bit of a spit-storm for Honeyford, mainly for his use of “colored” rather than “persons of color” in the rejoinder and tying race to crime by way of poverty. He didn’t help himself when in a later interview he sort of doubled down on language that has gone the way of the dodo bird, and used “negro.”

It could be argued that the most objectionable part of this exchange was not Honeyford’s language, but his misconstruction of facts. Poor people may be more likely to commit certain crimes, but very few poor people are responsible for foisting bad securities off on unsuspecting investors and crashing the economy, and there’s no real correlation between many violent crimes and income. Persons of color are not “most likely” to be poor in a numerical sense. The poverty rate is higher for blacks and Hispanics than it is for whites, but it’s lower for Asians. Even for blacks and Hispanics, the poverty rate hovers below 30 percent in the latest statistics, so they are not “more likely to be poor than not.” And because there are more whites in the United States, there are more poor white people.

It also should be noted that Steiger, who was explaining the need for data to the committee, did not say “Hold on there, senator. You got it all wrong.” No, what Steiger said to the initial comment was “That’s a good point.” And Hasegawa misquoted Honeyford, who did not say people of color commit more crimes.

Honeyford eventually became convinced of the error of his ways and issued an apology last week. For apologies from politicians, which tend to be in the realm of “I’m sorry you were offended,” this one was pretty decent.

He talked about teaching an old dog new tricks and working for years to encourage diversity in his community – the kind of yada, yada of most “I regret” statements. But the heart of the statement was a decent apology:

“I sincerely appreciate the people who took the time to tell me that some of the language I have used has been hurtful to them. Even my wife has weighed in on this issue,” he said. “I am deeply sorry for the hurt I have caused; it was certainly not my intent to offend anyone.”

OK, so bringing in the wife may have been a bit of deflection, but for a 76-year-old senator, at least a B-.

Not good enough, however, for a couple of Western Washington University students who on Friday donned T-shirts they had adorned with “#Honeyford resign” and went to the Senate gallery, where they briefly unfurled a sheet with the same message before being escorted out. Fuse Washington, a progressive organization, got some pictures that it emailed to the news media.

And this is where one bit of stupid creates another bit of stupid. One of those students is a lobbyist for the Associated Students of WWU, who at some point during the remainder of the session may have to be in front of a committee on which Honeyford sits or some of his colleagues who might look askance at her actions.

Perhaps no one explained to her in political science class that lobbyists who cross the line to be activists put the interests of their clients at risk. Or that if every legislator had to resign for saying something stupid, seniority in both chambers would be measured in weeks and months.

Say what?

“Representative, you have exhausted your quota of puns.” – House Speaker Pro Tem Jim Moeller to Rep. Strom Peterson, who was describing a bill to help honeybees with phrases like “a honey of a bill” until Moeller gaveled him down. He stopped cracking wise in the floor speech, but after the bill passed his staff couldn’t resist sending out a press release saying the “bill now buzzes over to the Senate for consideration.”

Spin Control, a weekly column by Jim Camden, appears online with daily items and reader comments at
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