Norment vs. transparency

Published 9:13 pm Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Transparency within state government has taken a bit of a beating this year, but a group of legislators in Richmond has organized an effort to open the door on the inner workings of the General Assembly, and Virginia citizens can at least have hope that the elected officials’ exemplary effort will prove to be the first swelling of a wave of change.

Or not.

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, whose 3rd Senatorial District includes a portion of Suffolk, famously and fatuously ejected the media from the floor of the Senate chamber in one of his first actions as leader of the Senate this year.

He’s not been forthcoming about his reasons for doing so, but Norment’s disdain for the media is widely known, and the symbolism of the action is clear: The media is entitled to nothing more than the average citizen of the commonwealth, and it can join those citizens up in the cheap seats, out of the way (and often out of earshot) of the important work legislators are trying to do down there on the floor.

There is, of course, nothing special about members of the media at the General Assembly, except for the fact that they do something that most Virginians cannot do: They cover the legislature, report on it and let the rest of the commonwealth know what’s happening in state government, what the men and women they’ve elected to office are doing in those elected offices.

If Norment’s bit of payback to the press sounds like an ode to smoke-filled rooms with low lights, backslapping bureaucrats and doors closed to the commoners, then the work of the Virginia Transparency Caucus is a song of praise for open doors, windows thrown wide to the sun and invitations extended to all.

Those legislators who would join the caucus must agree to document on video all committee and subcommittee actions for all of their bills. The idea is that the public has a right to know how its elected officials in Richmond are voting on bills before the General Assembly.

The caucus is the brainchild of Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Midlothian. They want their colleagues to follow their lead in giving the public access to what happens in legislative committees and subcommittees.

With one member of Suffolk’s General Assembly delegation going out of his way to close the blinds on his constituents, it would be great to know the others are working to let the sun shine in on state business.

We encourage the remaining members of the delegation representing Suffolk to take this opportunity to stand against the tyranny of government secrecy and the pretension of exclusion by aligning themselves with the Transparency Caucus and its cause.