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Tuesday, September 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control: Why legislators have a responsibility to reveal sources the news media don’t

Jim Camden
Jim Camden

OLYMPIA – The late Sen. Warren G. Magnuson used to tell a story, probably not original but definitely illustrative, about a man who walks into a pet shop where there are three parrots on perches.

Thinking he’d always wanted a parrot, he asked the store owner how much they were. The first one, which had three bright colors in its plumage, speaks two languages, the owner said, and is $100. The second one, with four colors, speaks three languages, he said, and is $200. The third was a dull gray and spoke only English, most of it swear words, the owner said. It’s $400.

Why was the third more expensive than the other two put together, the man asked. Because, the shopkeeper said, the other two birds call him “Mr. Chairman.”

I tell that story to show due deference to the role of committee chairmen in general, and Senate State Government Committee Chairman Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, in particular. A usually sunny, gregarious guy, Hunt seemed a bit perturbed on Wednesday when overseeing the hearing for a bill designed to carve out some extra exemptions from the Public Records Act for legislators. It includes a list of things dealing with various sources of information legislators wouldn’t have to reveal.

Lawmakers might insist it’s an effort to provide more transparency to their activities. Considering the overall lack of transparency to some of those activities right now, that would be defensible in the sense that lighting a candle in the middle of the Colville National Forest on a moonless midnight would shed some light on some things. But one wouldn’t want to go running full tilt in any direction.

Hunt opened witness testimony by asking people to avoid “inciteful language.” He and committee members withstood fairly long, detailed and at times pointed testimony about the shortcomings of the proposal before them – props to sponsor Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who didn’t leave the room after explaining his bill, as sponsors routinely do – without telling them time had expired so wrap it up.

But in the end, Hunt seemed unable to resist a return salvo: “We’re not trying to hide things, we’re trying to seek a better solution … Maybe the press should reveal its sources, too.”

He then banged the gavel to end the hearing – which is his right as chairman – cutting off the chance for any rejoinder.

So with all due respect, I’ll try to do it without inciteful language.

When the taxpayers provide the money for our papers and pens, our newsprint and our ink, our computers and cellphones, come back with that suggestion. When our salaries and employee benefits, our buildings and the furniture inside them are bought and paid for by mandatory payments from the citizens, send us a proposal.

Otherwise, the two aren’t even close to being the same thing.

Quote of the week

Hearings for certain topics – guns, abortion and capital punishment among them – are always good for pithy quotes. After last week’s Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee hearing, I’m adding sex education to the list.

Alexander Padillas, a concerned citizen from Vancouver who described himself as a prison minister, told committee members he opposes the proposed new standard for broader sexual education courses, based on his younger years in which he tried with different types of gender identity.

“I lived the lifestyle of exploratory debauchery,” Padillas said. “It was not until I grasped hold of faith, in that I was created for something, that I was not just a confused adult and living this won ton lifestyle.”

Almost certainly he meant wanton, which is an easy misread for someone not accustomed to speaking before a committee and thus a bit nervous. But “exploratory debauchery” is a description that would make a great name for a garage band.

Statuary update

Two weeks ago, Spin Control asked for thoughts on who might be good candidates for statues to represent Washington in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. A brief attempt to replace the Marcus Whitman statue wasn’t going anywhere in the Legislature, but we were happy to give the sponsor a forum in an effort to keep the discussion going.

While the outpouring was less than overwhelming, and in no way scientific, the greatest support so far is for Chief Joseph, who had various places he would call home around the Inland Northwest but spent his final years and is buried on the Colville Reservation. Former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas is a close second.

The most interesting dichotomy is on Spokane attorney and civil rights activist Carl Maxey, who was a controversial figure in life, too. While some criticized his tactics, one woman called to say he got her a fair divorce settlement, even though Maxey was her husband’s attorney. That’s worth some kind of recognition.

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