Chris Essig

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

Posts Tagged ‘State of the State

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.

Written by csessig

January 15, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Same speech, three different stories

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One interesting dilemma while working for a newspaper company as opposed to a newspaper is making your coverage meaningful for all of your publications. What that typically means for most stories is getting sources–lawmakers–from every region we cover: the Quad cities, Bloomington, Decatur, Mattoon/Charleston and southern Illinois. The same was true for Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address yesterday. Basically we split our coverage into two parts: a story on the speech, which was compiled by my bureau chief Kurt Erickson, and a reaction piece from local lawmakers, which I worked on with Mike Riopell. Usually when we write a reaction story or a story or a piece of legislation, we put together one article filed with quotes from lawmakers in the five mentioned coverage areas. Well, the SoS address was a little different. Instead of one story, we decided to create separate stories for each coverage area.

Fortunately, The Southern covered the speech on their own, so we didn’t need to worry about talking to those six lawmakers in their area. But getting a hold of the other lawmakers after the speech was mandatory, meaning Mike and I had to talk to roughly 15 lawmakers before they got the hell out of the Capitol. And the result of that was three separate stories (the Quad City Times did not pick up our story). All the stories were set up the same, they just featured different lawmakers. Here’s a quick wrap:

Decatur Herald & Review

State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said he assumed the speech would take political tones with Quinn facing a primary election in three weeks.

“The city of Decatur…has 15 percent unemployment,” he said. “What did he talk about putting those people back to work? What did he talk about bring manufacturing back to Illinois? I didn’t hear a lot.”

Budget details will come when Quinn gives lawmakers his proposal in the coming months, said state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion.

Bloomington Pantagraph

“I think he’s a nice guy, but certainly the speech didn’t tell us anything,” said state Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga. “It had no meat in it at all.”

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, agreed.

“It was a long speech short on specifics,” Brady said.

Matton Journal Gazette & Times-Courier

State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he thought Quinn’s remarks should have focused more on the problems facing Illinois.

“I felt like we were walking through Candy Land,” Rose said. “We’ve got real problems to address.”

Similar criticism came from other Republicans.

“I was disappointed the governor didn’t spend more time on the issues that really trouble the state,” said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. “The speech isn’t about what’s good about the state of Illinois. It’s just the state of Illinois. And there is a lot wrong in Illinois.

Amazingly, almost every lawmaker we talked to basically said the same thing: the speech, despite being 75 minutes long, lacked specifics. But in all fairness, Quinn’s budget address is coming up next month, which will likely include more specific details on how the state is going to get out of this fiscal nightmare. It will be interesting to see how Quinn–whether he’s the Democratic nominee or not–addresses the state then.

If you feel so inclined, the entire budget address is available by clicking here.

Also, a full transcript of the speech is available here.