The average American can be forgiven if his opinion of politicians and politics isn’t that high. The behavior of politicians of all ideological stripes hasn’t exactly engendered trust and respect in a lot of Americans.
But when politicians set aside their partisanship and pick up the mantle of elected public servants, attention must be paid, and that’s what we are doing today.
Earlier this week, we commented favorably on plans announced by leaders of the General Assembly to film, livestream, broadcast and archive all meetings of the state Senate, the House of Delegates and all the committees of the two chambers. The legislature is putting $736,000 toward the project, which has been something open-government advocates have called for for more than two decades.
Subcommittees of the various House panels aren’t included in this broadcast initiative, something we wished for as subcommittees are where the vast majority of bills are killed. The subcommittees meet at odd hours that often are inconvenient for the general public to attend. And to make matters even worse, House subcommittee votes were unrecorded, with no way for an average person to find out how each legislator voted.
You’ll notice the use of the past tense in the previous sentence — “were unrecorded.” That’s no longer the case, because late Wednesday, Republican leaders of the House of Delegates announced that, beginning with the current Assembly session, all subcommittee votes will be recorded, revealing to the public how each member voted.
Honestly, it is impossible to overstate the importance of this decision by House Republicans. Coupled with the filming and archiving initiative, the Assembly suddenly enters the ranks of legislatures around the country known as leaders in transparency.
Another topic we have relentlessly pushed since the November elections when Democrats obliterated a nearly two-to-one GOP advantage in the House of Delegates has been the need of something resembling powersharing in the almost-evenly divided House.
The GOP retained control with 51 Republicans to 49 Democrats, down from a 66-34 advantage before elections. Not unexpectedly, Republican Kirk Cox of Colonial Heights assumed the post of Speaker of the House.
As speaker, Cox has the absolute power to appoint whomever he wants to the 14 House committees. He chose to consult with Democratic caucus leaders in selecting committee members, something he didn’t have to do. In addition, there will be proportional representation on all committees and subcommittees; a Democrat will chair the most powerful subcommittee of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.
Addressing the House on Wednesday, Speaker Cox had this to say: “We are not two parties. We are one House. Tasked with the responsibility of governing one commonwealth.” To which we have only this to say: “Amen, and thank you.”
Perhaps the future of elected service isn’t so bleak after all.