There is an axiom in legislating, that when you have the votes to pass something, you shut up and cast them. When you don't have the votes, you talk. A corollary to that in this year's legislative session seems to be that when you don't have the votes, you offer up comments as quotable as possible. When you have the votes, you don't need to be pithy or clever; you speak as little as possible and cast them.
Thus it was on the floor of the House last week as legislators did battle over House Bill 2038, better known by Democrats as the "close the tax loopholes to pay for education" bill and by Republicans as the "raise taxes and throw people out of work" bill. Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, suggested his legislative brethren were forgetting the folks back home: "We are a part-time Legislature. The people outside these walls are full-time taxpayers."
This admonition might have had more weight if anyone had the faintest idea when the Legislature would actually retake the mantle of being part-time by going home. Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, gave fellow lawmakers a quick lesson in Latin, explaining the root of the word republic. But he managed a less pedantic and more evocative jab at the tax package's emergency clause, which essentially guarantees it can't be overturned by referendum: "It puts duct tape on the mouths of the people while simultaneously picking their pockets."
Rep. Linda Kochmar, R-Federal Way, seemed intent on using up as much time as possible before employing a familiar metaphor to trash the bill. Kochmar complimented presiding officer Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, on his nice nose -- surprising several legislators, Moeller included. She then said other legislators, too, had nice noses, causing some to wonder: Where is this going? "Why would we cut off our noses to spite our faces?" she demanded. "Where is the common sense in this?"
Quoth Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington: "This is lipstick on a pig. And that lipstick is very expensive."
On it went, with some Republicans offering little more than the phrase of the day, "put this bill down," as if it were a rabid Old Yeller and they were jointly holding the rifle.
Democrats spoke only sporadically, usually to note that the state has been cutting school programs for years, to the point where the state Supreme Court is on their case to knock it off and come up with more scratch. They don't believe there's enough to do that and keep other state programs going without changes to tax law.
All the rhetoric did little to change the outcome — the bill passed 50-47. Although a few Democrats voted no, Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said Democrats made their point with the vote count more than with words: "It means we can pass revenue proposals to fund our budget."
Pot legislation rolls on
With remarkable speed, the Legislature approved a technical change in the state's new legalized marijuana law that takes the plant's chemistry into account. The biggest obstacle may have been the reading of the bill title in the Senate, where official reader Ken Edmonds stumbled over tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in question.
Legislation does not come with a pronunciation guide, and Edmonds is not of an age where familiarity with that substance makes the word roll easily off the tongue. It's possible that some of the senators who chuckled at his struggle were more familiar.
The only discouraging word on the quick fix for the law came from Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, who said he didn't favor Initiative 502 in the first place, and the problem was an example of what can go wrong with a ballot measure, which isn't subjected to the scrutiny and debate of a legislative bill. "You never know what you're going to get when you vote for an initiative," Hargrove warned. "This was a flawed initiative, and now we're having to use an extraordinary step here to fix it." But Hargrove voted for the change, as did everyone else in the Senate.