Press Talk: Building a shenanigans scale

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian Editor



Politicians often do funny stuff. In fact just the other day I was looking for a synonym for the word “politics.” What did I come up with?


Goodness gracious, I love that word. I just don’t often find an opportunity to use it.

Now when state Sen. Joe Zarelli decided not to run for re-election I wasn’t thinking shenanigans. I was thinking “Oh, my.”

But then as The Columbian slowly pieced the story together I was able to resurrect the word I’m growing to love.


You see after Joe decided not to run, he hatched a bit of plan. He would tell very few people that he wasn’t running. What’s the advantage of this? Well no Democrat in his right mind (sorry, Ralph Schmidt) would really think he had a chance against Republican Zarelli. So if Zarelli were to announce that he was out — early — more folks might jump in the race.

Joe did tell Republican Ann Rivers, who was up for re-election as a state representative. She then did not file for re-election to her seat and instead — at the very last minute — filed for Joe’s seat.

This also helped the two Republicans who filed — also at the last minute — for Ann’s suddenly open seat.

I asked Joe about all this. In fact this is the way I phrased the question:

“Don’t you think you were gaming the system by doing it this way?”

Joe strongly disagreed. He said it was more accurate to say on the last day of filing — when he finally decided not to run — the thing got “a little political.”

I would still call this shenanigans (I might be at my limit for using this word) because one definition of that word is maneuvering. And that’s exactly what Joe and the Republican party did.

But the real issue is, how bad does one consider this maneuvering?

Truth is, the Democratic party was outmaneuvered by the Republicans.

Would I have used this tactic if I were running for office? No. But do I have some appreciation — on a philosophical level — for one political party outmaneuvering another?

You bet!

And in the end it should be a lesson learned. If there is any finger-pointing, frankly, it should be pointed at the Democrats for not paying attention. Don’t assume anything. And you know what happens when you assume.

o o o

So we’ve now established that politicians often use shenanigans as they go about their business. But are there different levels of shenanigans?

Well, yes, there are. My good friend, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, hates when I keep bringing this up, but that whole “I’m against tolls” pitch when he ran for mayor, which turned into “I’m in favor of tolls” after he was elected … that was shenanigans as well.

But on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say Joe’s shenanigans were a 3.5 and Leavitt’s shenanigans were a 9.2.

o o o

In the end politicians often do things that strike us common folk as annoying or bizarre. After being around these political types for a while I more often simply find them bemusing.

And, hey, let’s build a “shenanigans scale.” Help me on who should be on it, why and on a 1 to 10 rating (10 being super shenanigan) what score would you give to him/her/it?

Don't Do Stupid Stuff Mugs