Cronkite Header

Cronkite News has moved to a new home at Use this site to search archives from 2011 to May 2015. You can search the new site for current stories.

Arizona senator struggles with ‘shenanigans’ and ‘malfeasance’

Email this story
Print this story

WASHINGTON – Shenanigans first got Sen. Jeff Flake in trouble, but it was malfeasance that finally got the Arizona Republican booted.

But the “shenanigans” and “malfeasance” in this case were the two words that knocked Flake out of the National Press Club’s Centennial Spelling Bee.

The Wednesday night event pitted D.C. journalists against members of Congress in an old-fashioned spelling contest to raise money for the press club scholarship fund.

Flake, one of nine lawmakers in the bee, jokingly suggested partisan motives, noting on his way out that he was the only Republican in the competition.

“Malfeasance? Shenanigans? It’s only because I’m a Republican right?” a laughing Flake said after his exit. “I’m the only Republican up there and I get those words.”

The “Best Speller in the United States” competition was first held in 1913 at the press club, when President Woodrow Wilson was on hand to see an Ohio senator take the title in the journalist and lawmaker match.

That was the last time it was held until Wednesday, when the press club decided to revive the bee. Spectators filled the club’s ballroom to watch the nine congressmen and nine journalists fight for the prize.

The crowd added to the competitive spirit in the room, cheering their champions, who engaged in a little spelling trash-talk.

But the mood was mostly light-hearted and humorous: The first word of the night, for example, was “potato,” the word famously misspelled by former Vice President Dan Quayle. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., learned from Quayle’s mistake and did not put an “e” at the end of the word.

Flake said he has never been a good speller and was proud to make it to the fourth round. He cruised through the first round, but he cringed in round two when he had to spell “shenanigans.”

After repeating it aloud a couple of times he started to spell it with a “c.” He was only one letter in to the word when the audience gasped.

Instead of trying to spell the rest of the word, Flake just laughed and walked back to his seat. The rules of this spelling bee allowed each contestant one misspelling, then booted them on their second mistake.

For Flake, that was in round four with “malfeasance.”

As in the first bee 100 years ago, a lawmaker was the last speller standing. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., ultimately bested Politico’s deputy White House editor Rebecca Sinderbrand after a tough back and forth.

Kaine finally won about 90 minutes into the bee by correctly spelling “nonpareil” – even though he conceded he was not sure exactly what it meant.

For his part, Flake was out by not down. After the event, he tweeted, “For the record, I can’t even SPELL malfeasance.”

And like a good politician, he was already putting a spin on his defeat.

“I’m Mormon,” he said during the competition. “I’m not supposed to know anything about shenanigans.”