Friday, January 22, 2010

Barking for Transparency

You’ve seen this before. It’s a quiet night in the neighborhood. Then one dog barks. And then another. And another. Soon the entire neighborhood is full of barking. So it is with liberals howling on behalf of transparency.

This round of noise in the night started with Delegate Saqib Ali (D-39), who proposed a bill based on a good idea: committee votes should be just as accessible on the General Assembly’s website as are floor votes. Ali worked the press hard on this issue, obtaining editorial support from both the Post and the Sun. But Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-20) said that Ali’s bill was not enough, arguing along with Common Cause Executive Director Ryan O’Donnell for a package of bills. And then Delegate Luiz Simmons (D-17) slammed Mizeur for not addressing the ancient practice by Committee Chairs of putting bills “in the drawer,” or not holding votes on them at all. Most improbably, individuals associated with Montgomery County’s Progressive Neighbors claim credit for the idea too, even seeking to trademark Las Vegas’ celebrated tourist slogan for themselves. Don’t they understand that successful advocacy groups heap credit upon their bill sponsors and not upon themselves? Now even the Republicans are involved.

And then this shameful squabble erupted on Delegate Ali’s Facebook page. The bickering goes on too long to fit on one screenshot, but it is enough for our readers to get the idea.

Meanwhile, little logistical work has been done. Who is briefing the presiding officers and their staff? Did anyone bother to do that before running off panting to the newspapers? Who is talking to the relevant Committee Chairs who will consider the bill(s)? Who is lobbying the committee members? Who is assembling research on how other states disclose committee votes, and on the benefits that ensue? Who is putting in the difficult, but invisible work of actually getting something passed? Is anyone? Or is everyone so busy getting their names into the press that no one is doing any work?

The only result of all of this barking for attention so far is to create mirth in the halls of Annapolis. One spy in the capital had this comment on the fracas:

The transparency proposals are modifications of an idea that Republicans started pushing three years ago. In 2007, Warren Miller and Alex Mooney (two of the most conservative Republicans in the legislature) sponsored a transparency bill (it failed). In 2008, they brought it back, and it passed unanimously. In 2009, Verna Jones sponsored a bill (which passed unanimously), and the Senate began putting committee votes online. This year, everyone's trying to get in the mix. Heather Mizeur and Saqib Ali introduced bills. The Republicans in both chambers proposed rule changes. Nancy King wrote to the Senate President to request a rule change. And Common Cause is floating around, hopelessly unaware of what's happening or how to affect the outcome. If anything is going to happen, look for the Democratic leadership in both chambers to make the issue their own and resolve it without legislation... long before a hearing is even scheduled on Mizeur or Ali's proposals.
And so the most likely outcome is a limited administrative change. As for the broader agenda pushed by squabbling liberals? All of you Redskins fans should be acquainted with the phrase, “There’s always next year.”