Angel’s cruise was news, not just here.

My colleague Ed Friedrich is being criticized today because of the story he wrote reporting that state Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, was on a cruise during part of the special session. “Nice hit piece,” was one of the more succinct complaints. Others came to the defense of Friedrich and the newspaper generally. I take exception to the idea that this was a hit piece. Friedrich stated the facts. She was gone because she was on a cruise, and one day because she was sick.

From my experience, a legislator missing consecutive days of voting because of a vacation is rare. In the years I have covered government I’ve heard of elected officials serving in year-round positions, such as the city council or county commission, taking off for vacation and missing legislation.

Not so for legislators in a session that has a designated beginning and end. I’ve spoken to several who missed votes because they were sick. Bill Eickmeyer, a Democrat who represented the 35th District as a legislator, missed a lot of votes in 2007 because of back pain. He said, and the record showed, he would make it to the chamber if he was needed on a close vote.

Friedrich also gave Angel ample opportunity to explain the circumstances of the cruise, how she won it and that she told House party leadership of her possible absence beforehand.

The idea that this is not news is wrong, though I am certain no one would be surprised that I would make that case. In the Eickmeyer example we reported the legislator’s absence, despite his excuse that I think most would agree carries more absolution than a cruise. We essentially did the same thing then as Friedrich did today. We allowed the legislator to explain and we provided context.

The same argument, “This is not news,” was made earlier this year when state Rep. Jim Jacks, D-Vancouver, resigned abruptly from his elected position, was out of touch for about a month, then re-emerged to reveal that he quit because he had an alcohol problem. Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor (and my former jefe), was blistered by some commenters who said that because Jacks was now a private citizen his alcoholism was now his private business. Never mind the fact that his alcoholism affected his public role, I guess.

The Jacks incident is substantially more newsworthy than Jan Angel’s cruise, but I might point out that the Associated Press version of the Angel cruise story appeared online in just about every Washington news outlet today, including the Columbian.

In those publications are commenter arguments that also appear on our site, questioning whether Angel should have accepted the cruise at all. I agree that it would be tough to turn it down. Nonetheless, there is a solid argument to made that Angel should never have put herself in position win that thing. Or at least once she did perhaps she could have chosen to decline or offer it to someone else.

No question that legislators and politicians are different than journalists and have different responsibilities. There is also no question that there are reporters out there who would not toe the same line I do on this. I would not put myself in a position to win this trip. The trip was a prize in a raffle. People bought $25 tickets. The organization that runs Fathoms O’ Fun netted about $3,000 from the venture, thanks to Holland America selling a cruise package worth up to $10,000 at a substantially reduced price.

According to Jessie Turner, who ran the raffle, there were no set times on the cruise. The prize was as stated above, up to $10,000 in credit toward a Holland America cruise. As reporters we would not buy a ticket to that raffle. Our biggest fear, I believe, is that we would win. Granted, it could all be luck of the draw, but someone could see it as the Fathoms O’ Fun organization now being in a position to seek favors from us. I admit we’re not perfect at this. Over the years I’ve had a cookie or two provided by organizations I cover, but not many.

On the other hand a politician is different. Politicians are supposed to blatantly support organizations like Fathoms O’ Fun. Angel bought a raffle ticket. I don’t think anyone would criticize her for that. Where they can, though, is in her acceptance of the prize. A legislator has some influence over what a local organization can do, and a local organization can seek to sway good legislation from an elected representative.

There is no reason I see to suggest there is any quid pro quo going on here. No bad intentions are apparent. And this doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as questionable as members of Congress getting paid trips to exotic locations for seminars or golfing, junkets paid for by big-money lobbying firms. This is not that. There is an appearance that it could be, though, and for that I think those who believe Angel should have directed the prize elsewhere are not necessarily misguided. That’s especially true if they’re willing to hold legislators in their own party to the same standard.

If you want to address whether a Republican legislator in a Democratically-controlled chamber can have any influence anyway, I suppose that’s a debate worth having, too. The last session I covered Republicans were able to stop a major policy shift in education funding exactly because they had enough members speaking who could press the session up against a deadline it was not going to meet. Angel was part of that group. So it isn’t as if the minority has no sway. They don’t go away just because they lose most of the controversial arguments.

3 thoughts on “Angel’s cruise was news, not just here.

  1. Hahaha, Steve, You’re the professional. I’ll let you decide what’s news and not news. After all, it’s not “my” newspaper.

    I saw more serious comments in support of the story. The naysayers are just the usual conservative hacks. If it makes their person look bad, then it’s not news. Of course if you can make up a bogus story about a democrat, then that will be the top story for a week.

    I almost hate to post about the “nice hit piece” comment because I think it doesn’t deserve much attention. My advice is to put this guy on your PLONK list.

    I would like to point out that this was a very informative article. Elected officials work for us, we are their bosses. I’ve managed a team of people, our employee hand book said if you took a sick day after a vacation you had to have a doctors note. Ms. Angel has one that says she was dehydrated.

    Traveling will leave you dehydrated, so will other leisure activities. If one of my employees did this, I’d tell them I was pretty unhappy about letting the team down. We expect you back to work after a vacation, so sober up the day before and drink a lot of water on your flight home.

    The article also reports the voting record of our other local reps. We should be considering this information when we cast our ballots. Ed and the Sun are doing a favor to local voters with these kind of stories. When comments include posts from liberals saying the article was too supportive of Ms. Angel and other comments condemn it I think you can feel pretty good about achieving balance.

    Keep up the good work!

    Robin

  2. Original story was newsworthy and fairly written.

    But, I don’t agree with Steve Gardner’s take that Jan Angel should never have accepted the cruise after she won the raffle.

    Politicians are also citizens that have equal civil rights. There is no conflict of interest if she won a raffle that was open to the general public and it was conducted as a random draw. To say she should not accept the benefit of such random drawing would seem to be a violation of her right as a citizen to be on an equal basis as any other citizen. It’s not an “accepting a gift by an elected official” situation.

    I’ll say the same for news reporters … if they enter and win a fairly conducted raffle, they should not be banned from accepting the raffle prize because of their profession.

    What can be fairly criticized is her timing of the trip. That decision was made before the scheduled end of the regular session, but most time tested politicians and citizens who wake up in the morning knew the likelihood of an extended legislative session was a near certainty.

    Robert

  3. I’m sure that Jan Angel – like any other elected official – felt some obligation to buy a raffle ticket. How can someone who represents a community decline to support it when asked – especially in public?

    The catch is what to do with the ticket!

    Someone with better judgment would’ve given the ticket to someone else before the drawing was even conducted, and holding the winning ticket doesn’t obligate the politician to come forward and claim the prize – she could have either not claimed it, or donated it to a worthy cause (how politically shrewd would THAT have been!)

    Instead, Jan Angel did all the wrong things – including assuming that she was accountable to “Republican leadership” on being MIA for a significant portion of the Special Session.

    Yes, there is an appropriate procedural motion, made via party leadership, to miss a vote on the floor – but using this to leave your constituents without representation as you colleagues debate solutions to the worst economic situation since the Great Depression is inexcusable.

    Someone in the reader comments implied that the cruise was non-transferable, non-refundable, and unable to be rescheduled. According to the original story, Angel herself implied as much.

    But if it’s true, as stated above, that there were no set times on the cruise and that the prize was a credit toward a Holland America cruise, then Jan Angel is even more damned for her actions. Choosing to redeem it for a cruise when everyone with two-cents worth of political wisdom was betting there would be a Special Session is just one more example of Jan Angel’s lack of judgment.

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