Camden: Lawmakers should rid vocabularies of tired phrases

By Jim Camden, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

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photoJim Camden

OLYMPIA — Now that the Legislature has wandered, bleary-eyed, out of town, would it be too much to hope they took some of their overworked phrases with them and didn’t bring them back?

First on the list: “Bending the curve.” Throughout the session, legislators talked about bending the curve on unemployment, bending the curve on spending, bending the curve on health care costs. Gov. Chris Gregoire may be partly responsible for this. In her state of the state address, she urged them to be like race car drivers who win by accelerating in the turns, when others get cautious and slow down. But so many legislators picked up the theme that for a while it seemed the Capitol had 147 would-be pitchers, and no hitters. And really, don’t curves bend on their own? Let’s straighten the curve on bending the curve, and just power through.

“At the end of the day.” What they mean is eventually or ultimately, and no one ever says “at the beginning of the night.” The phrase had an ironic twist on Tuesday, April 10, because technically, there was no end of the day. The Legislature went from the end of one special session into the beginning of a new special session without a break, and the end of the session was the beginning of the morning.

“Transparency.” Everybody was for transparency in January. It’s similar to the way every baseball fan thinks his team has a shot at the World Series in April. By the time the special session rolled around in March, and the first three weeks were spent in closed-door negotiations, budget writers had retreated to the fallback position that they’d held some hearings on some versions of these bills at some time in the not too distant past. On the final days, there was no pretense that most members, let alone the public, had even a peek at some legislation that was about to be pushed through the sausage grinder.

A 280-page budget showed up on legislators’ desks at 12:20 a.m. Wednesday. Gov. Chris Gregoire revealed in her post-session press conference that they had to make changes in one final piece of “reform” legislation in a 2 a.m. conference, and even she didn’t know what legislators had stuck in the budget that night. This is standard operating procedure for the Legislature’s end game. It’s time to acknowledge that transparency is either a full-time policy, or it’s just a slogan.

I could go a long time without hearing “sustainable” and not miss it. What they really meant was, “Let’s not do things that cost us a little bit this year and a ton of money later, knocking the budget way outta whack.” A good policy that doesn’t need to be summed up in some New-Age term.

They might also stop saying “bipartisan” when what they really mean is “we got a couple folks from the other party to sign on.” Senate Republicans enlisted three Democrats for a budget coup late in the regular session, and insisted on calling that budget “bipartisan.” But the only budget that really met the definition of bipartisan was the one that passed the Senate early Wednesday morning with 44 votes – all the Democrats and most of the Republicans. Even GOP leader Linda Evans Parlette agreed it was essentially a budget written by Senate Democrats that the coalition derailed with the coup in order to get the reforms.

We might return the phrase “roadkill” to its rightful connotation, which is animals that expire from being hit by passing cars. Breakaway conservative Democrats, mostly in the Senate, adopted the phrase “Roadkill Caucus” in past sessions to denote that they were in middle of the road. But the caucus frayed in the budget coup, with some joining Republicans and others voting with Democrats. So it was sort of Roadkill killed.

And please, can we stop talking about kicking the can down the road? As mentioned in some previous post-session rant, this is a child’s game from a bygone era. Nobody plays the game anymore; no one knows what size can you are kicking, where you are kicking it, and what road that might be. How about we just say “stop doing the same old stupid stuff”?