DIY Transparency in Virginia


Is Virginia the epicenter of the use of digital video in politics? First we have S.R. Sidarth’s YouTube video of then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) calling the University of Virginia student a “macaca” (which we all now know to be a racist term). Now the Democrats in the state legislature have gone to videotaping committee hearings that have been scheduled during off-hours — early in the morning and late at night — and therefore do not have to be recorded. Call it DIY transparency.

The videotaping effort, called Assembly Access, began after the Republican majority changed the rules to allow bills to be killed in subcommittees without recorded votes. After a minimum wage increase bill — the top bill on Democrats’ agenda — was killed in a subcommittee without ever receiving a vote the minority went to the videotaping tactic to show the public what was going on behind the scenes.

Personally, I could care less how committee hearings come about being videotaped whether it’s out of a desire for civic engagement in the political process or an angry political party upset over the use of secrecy by their opponents to stifle a political agenda. This is a truly innovative communications strategy by the Democrats, but it also gives the promise of a legislative agreement to open up the political process.

The Republican majority however is calling foul. They see videotaped committee hearings as a means to more “gotcha politics” and have vowed to fight back in kind with their own digital camera wielders following Democratic legislators around. It would be nice if, instead of acting like children, a compromise could be reached through the legislative process (these guys should know something about legislating, that is their job right?) that would allow all committee hearings to be videotaped in a dignified manner and promptly posted to a government website.

Across the river in Congress, the Senate recently agreed to post a video, audio, or printed transcript of every committee and subcommittee hearing to each committee’s website. The House should do the same when it considers their lobbying and ethics reform legislation. It’s past time for Congress and state legislatures to open up their doors and committee rooms to the public.