House Democrats Score Another Victory for Open Government
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 10, 2009
Speaker Agrees to House Democrats’ Transparency Initiative
Desperate GOP Again Tries to Rewrite History
House Speaker Bill Howell has announced that the upcoming General Assembly session will feature live floor video from the House of Delegates streamed over the Internet – an initiative House Democrats have proposed repeatedly in the face of GOP opposition.
In 2007, Del. David Englin carried HR47, a resolution directing the House Clerk’s office to broadcast the existing webcast of House floor video to the public at large, as the Democratic-controlled State Senate has done for several years. Currently, the House’s video stream is only available on state computers in Capitol Square.
Unfortunately, the resolution died on an unrecorded voice vote at the hands of Howell and his fellow Republicans in the Speaker’s own Rules Committee. House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, who moved to kill the measure, argued that any public broadcasting of floor video would only be viable with a full-time legislature and that lawmakers would play to the cameras, as “they want everybody back home to think they’re running the place.” [YouTube video, 1/31/07]
On the opening day of the 2008 session, House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong revived the public webcast idea through a floor amendment to the proposed Rules of the House. “In furtherance of open government, it is absolutely imperative that what we do here be disseminated to the people at large,” Armstrong argued on the floor.
“I would urge that you defeat this amendment,” replied former Republican Caucus Chairman Terry Kilgore. “If you want to stay here a lot longer, than you will vote for the Delegate from Henry’s amendment, because that’s what we’d be doing… we’ll be just like Congress. Every night, somebody will be in here making a speech with nobody else in here and somebody else serving as Speaker up there as they do traditionally on C-SPAN at night.” [House floor, 1/9/08]
The Republican majority sided with Kilgore, killing the amendment on a 55-43 vote.
“I’m glad the Speaker has finally come around to an initiative we’ve been pushing for more than two years now – although it seems to me that his sudden commitment to transparency in government has more to do with Republican electoral prospects than the best interest of Virginians,” Del. Armstrong said today. “In either case, I hope Virginians will be watching.”
“We shouldn’t be too hard on the Speaker — after all, it takes courage for House Republicans to admit that House Democrats were right all along,” added Del. Englin. “Of course, President-elect Obama won the Speaker’s district, so maybe Republicans are adopting these long-held Democratic positions because they see the writing on the wall. House Democrats have championed these transparency measures for years, and I’m glad to see House Republicans now joining our efforts to shine a light on what happens in the General Assembly.”