Chris Essig

Walkthroughs, tips and tricks from a data journalist in eastern Iowa

This week’s Statehouse buzz phrase: “elephant in the room”

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As I mentioned yesterday, the scene at the Capitol was a bit crazy after Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address on Wednesday. Reporters were scrambling to talk to rank-and-file lawmakers before they left town and candidates in the February primaries were trying everything they could to get their mug on TV.  And many lawmakers had similar complaints about Quinn’s speech:  it was too vague.

That didn’t surprise me that much. But what did surprise me was how many people used the phrase “elephant in the room” to the describe the state’s mounting fiscal crisis. In particular, many lawmakers were upset Quinn didn’t make the “elephant in the room” a focal point of his speech. One lawmaker, in fact, counted the number of minutes it took Quinn to mention it. He said it took roughly 47 minutes.

He didn’t use this week’s Statehouse buzz phrase to describe fiscal calamity. But many did:

1. I first heard the phrase used by State Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, in a story I worked on that previewed the speech. The Southern, subsequently, used the phrase in the headline:

State Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said it will be interesting to see how much emphasis Quinn places on the dismal state budget. The deficit is expected to reach $12 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

“It’s the elephant in the room,” Luechtefeld said.

2. The quote was picked up by radio stations and newspapers, including the Alton Daily News.

3. Illinois Statehouse News also used the phrase in a headline.

4. After the speech, the phrase seemed to pop up even more frequently:

“The longer we continue to ignore the elephant in the room that is a thirteen billion dollar deficit, the more destructive it becomes,” said [State Representative Jil Tracy (R-Mt. Sterling)].

5. Another lawmaker used the phrase after the speech, according to a story from a NBC affiliate in Peoria:

“We did do some work this year, and I think the governor spent a lot of time talking about those things, but the most important thing is the elephant in the room, we have to get a budget passed,” said Jehan Gordon, D-Peoria.

6. I also saw the phrase used in the comment section of a story posted on Capitol Fax.

7. It’s no wonder my bureau chief used the phrase as well in wrap-up of the speech:

It was not until nearly 50 minutes into the speech, however, that he addressed what some lawmakers call the “elephant in the room” — the dismal condition of state finances.

8. And, finally, I heard the phrase on my way to work today being used by Kevan Kavanaugh, president of Mid-West Family Broadcasting, in his daily editorial. He was also critical of Quinn for not addressing the “elephant in the room” sooner and with more force.

(Note: the podcast has not been posted yet)

9. One last comment: It seems that reporters across the country are finding themselves unable to avoid the cliche, according to the lede from a 2009 article in State Net:

Dismal budgets continue to be the elephant in the room in most statehouses, but lawmakers are still making time to address other issues as well.

Have you seen the phrase pop up anywhere else?

Image by Debbie Tomassi.

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Written by csessig

January 15, 2010 at 5:38 pm

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