Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Tuesday, September 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 62° Partly Cloudy
News >  WA Government

Spin Control: Pro forma sessions – don’t blink or you’ll miss them

OLYMPIA – A typical “pro forma” session in the Washington House of Representatives, as seen from the north gallery. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA – A typical “pro forma” session in the Washington House of Representatives, as seen from the north gallery. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

With the Legislature in a somnambulant second special session, the Capitol press corps often has nothing much to do some days but meander the halls of the domed Legislative Building, looking for signs of life and random bits of wisdom.

So it was on Wednesday morning when the Senate was adjourned until Friday but the House was scheduled for a “pro forma.” I hustled over to the House gallery to make sure they didn’t sneak anything in on the public.

There, I encountered a couple of tourists standing in the doorway to the gallery, trying to decide whether it was OK to cross the threshold to such an august establishment. Yes, it’s open to the public, I assured them, and we went in together.

The woman sat on a bench in the back row of the gallery and the man hovered behind her. Their English was a bit limited – he had a heavy Slavic accent and she had an Asian accent – but as they took in the marbled chamber with its Tiffany light fixtures, she fixed on a screen that projected the timing for the next activity on the wall.

“June 14. Today,” she said, looking at the man.

“9:55 a.m.,” he said, looking at his watch, which if set properly told him that it was in about two minutes. They looked at me expectantly, and I assured them that yes, there would be a session in a few minutes, although the House might not hit 9:55 right on the nose.

We talked briefly about the political makeup of the Legislature. He asked if Democrats controlled the House and I said yes, by two votes, 50 to 48. And the Senate, he asked, looking down the hall to the gallery to the other chamber.

Republicans, by one vote, I said, opting not to explain the Majority Coalition Caucus, which gives them the upper hand even though Democrats actually have a 25 to 24 majority, but one of their members votes with Republicans. That’s hard enough for longtime residents to grasp.

He looked at me dubiously. “Is no one down there?” he said, looking at the floor with 98 empty chairs pushed to their desks, and just a few members of the House staff seated in the front.

No, the legislators won’t be here, I said. A few of them are in meetings, but most of them are back home. So when the session happens, it will be quick, I said. Maybe as short as 20 seconds, which was the length of a session a week earlier.

“Twenty seconds?” she asked skeptically. Well, maybe a little longer, I said, looking down to see Speaker Frank Chopp walking to the dais and sitting in a chair next to the rostrum. He probably has to sign something, I said.

“Sign?” the man asked. The Senate passed a bill Tuesday and the rules say he has to sign it in open session, I explained.

“So this …” he said, looking down at the empty chamber.

Will be that open session, I replied.

Rep. Gael Tarleton was dragooned into banging the gavel for the day, which she did to open the session. She asked for a reading of the previous day’s minutes, which she cut short and moved for acceptance if no one objected. A foregone conclusion, as no one was around to object. She accepted messages from the Senate, similarly cut short, similarly not objected to. She ran through a few other routine matters and looked at Chopp, who had finished writing on a piece of paper.

Tarleton moved for the session to adjourn. Once again, no one objected. The gavel banged and she announced them adjourned for two days. A minute and 27 seconds had passed. The chamber cleared.

The couple looked at each other. That’s it, I told them. They’ll do this again on Friday. Not sure how much longer until they get a budget. I was afraid the visitors hadn’t grasped the intricacies of the Legislature, but the man turned to the woman and said:

“Is pretty good job. You don’t show up for work and they pay you.”

I decided not to explain the rules for per diem, which say they can get an extra $120 per day during the special session, even without being here. The American system of government has a bad enough rep without getting into that.

New flags with the grand old one

Although Wednesday was Flag Day, the array of flags seen in and around Olympia in the past several days went far beyond the Stars and Stripes.

Gov. Jay Inslee helped hoist the Rainbow Flag Friday for an upcoming Gay Pride parade. That flag could also be seen Thursday at the protest/counterprotest on The Evergreen State College campus.

Also flapping in the breeze was the black-and-white version of the Stars and Stripes, which features a blue stripe where a white one would normally be below the field of stars. It’s a “Blue Lives Matter” flag, with the blue stripe representing the line of police protection against, well, whatever might attack the stars.

There was also a Nyberg 3 percent flag, which has 13 stars in a circle, like the Betsy Ross flag, with the Roman numeral III in the middle of that circle. It represents what some conservative groups believe were the 3 percent of colonists who fought the British in the American Revolution – although many historians believe a much bigger percentage of colonists actually fought in the war.

The green flag with Pepe the frog’s face was also being flown by members of the Patriot Prayer group. Some people say it’s a banner against political correctness; others say it’s a symbol of the alt-right.

The black-clad anarchists or “anti-fascists” were flying several all-black flags, along with a homemade one divided diagonally between a black section and a red section with a hammer and sickle.

Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.

You have been successfully subscribed!
There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email webteam@spokesman.com