Democrats Govern in the Dark

by Shaun Kenney

Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, was greeted with this notification as he attempted to log in for virtual voting:

Whoops.

Garren Shipley with the House Republican Caucus was more direct:

Former Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) raised the flag the highest and longest about what could only be described as a minor revolution in the House of Delegates, one that completely undermines the idea of representative government:

For those who may not have followed it closely, here is what happened. The Democratic majority attempted to change the rules of the House of Delegates to allow for virtual legislative meetings and voting, but did not earn a sufficient number of votes to do so immediately.  When that failed, they attempted to suspend the rules for a temporary period, allowing virtual legislative meetings and voting to proceed while awaiting a formal rules change. When that effort failed, they simply disregarded the rules and through some abnormal resolution conferred unilateral power upon the Speaker to direct committees to meet and vote virtually whenever she so chooses.

Delegate Tony Wilt (R-Broadway) went into more depth about what the House Democrats actually engineered:

The Democratic majority attempted to change the House rules to allow committees and the full body to meet entirely online. After two failed attempts at a rule change to allow for virtual session, they decided to ignore the rules and forced through a resolution on a simple majority vote (party line) that gives sole authority to the Speaker to declare by fiat that the House shall meet virtually. To add insult to injury, next they passed a resolution that authorizes per diem payments for the special session. This amounts to just over $200 a day that is supposed to go towards food, travel and lodging expenses. However, with a virtual session these travel expenses do not exist! A legislator can literally participate from their living room if they wish and collect the per diem. During a time of economic crisis when cuts will undoubtedly need to be made, this is wrong. This amounts to a complete waste and improper use of taxpayer dollars.

The media isn’t talking about this. More is the pity, because this Orwellian move to governing-by-couch is precisely what governing in the dark represents.

Now bear in mind that the House Democrats voted themselves their full $212 per diem to sit in their pajamas and govern on the couch. Tough gig, isn’t it?

But let’s review what this actually is in practice:

  • Citizens can no longer directly lobby their legislators.
  • Legislators are no longer required to come to Richmond.
  • Committees and subcommittees will now be almost exclusively governed by what the respective chairs determine regardless of technical issues or dissension among other members.
  • Legislators are further rewarded for continuing the “long parliament” at $212/day, a healthy share of the government spoils system during a state-imposed economic lockdown.

In short, if Madam Speaker needs a bill passed? You submit the bill (in the dark), pop the bill into the hopper (in the dark), have the committee chair ram in through (in the dark) and hope it survives first and second reading while silencing any opposition through technical snafus.

By way of the RTD’s Jeff Schapiro, there is an excellent op-ed from David Brooks that discusses how radicals rarely win, and are therefore forced to rely upon the Burkeans to make it work — in short, a reliance on that old tried and true tradition we call process:

Radicals are not good at producing change because while they are good at shaking up the culture, they don’t have practical strategies to pass legislation when you have to get the support of 50% plus one.

The people who come in their wake and actually make change are conservative radicals. They believe in many of the radicals’ goals, but know how to work within the democratic framework to achieve them.

Conservative radicals, like Hamilton, Lincoln and Roosevelt, begin with moderate dispositions. They have a reverence for the collective wisdom of the past. They have an awareness that the veneer of civilization is thin and if you simply start breaking things you get nihilism, not progress.

Of course, David Brooks is talking about what he terms “the extreme right wing of the left wing” and so forth — caveat lector and all that. Yet one can see the point Brooks is making to his erstwhile (and newfound) allies on the political left. Craziness begets reaction; reaction stymies progress.

What the House Democrats are doing isn’t just crazy, it’s positively Orwellian. More than this, it is the antithesis of governance in the light of day that is the predicate of representative government.

At no time in Virginia’s history have we allowed our legislators to govern in papal conclave. Through smallpox or yellow fever or polio, whether the advance was the telephone or the computer, Virginia always managed to do the people’s business in person.

What has changed? Certainly not the people. Perhaps it is the weakness of the agenda that knows it will not survive public scrutiny? If this is the case, then perhaps Democrat would be better served to err on the side of pragmatic caution rather than listen to the siren song of Biden +11 — because there are rocks in those shoals, to be sure.

Of course, there is a deeper question here that House Democrats ought to consider in the ramble. Is our technocratic age really is progress? Does a layer of technology (even during a pandemic) really improve this thing we call self-government? Or does it have a corrosive effect?

In short, just because this is new technology can we really call it progress? In an era where people stare mindlessly into their smartphones endlessly entertaining themselves to death, one might think that the consideration of our laws and processes deserve a bit more depth and interaction than the devices we use to play Candy Crush Saga — yes?

Governance of the people requires personal interactions, not these 2D technocratic and false exchanges over fiber optics. That’s the catch, and if it means we do this with masks on our faces at distances of six feet? So be it.

Or we can always go for the solution Amanda “3/5ths” Chase (I-Chesterfield, possibly Appomattox?) has forced upon the taxpayer dole.

All that’s missing here is the drum set:

Either way, let the point not be missed.

Virginians elect representatives to meet to deliberate our laws in what becomes an inherently moral process. Our lawmakers approve of moral laws, reject immoral ones, and discern between the two.

We ask them to do this among one another, not in the privacy of their own living rooms, precisely because our General Assembly is supposed to be a deliberative body, not a reflective one.

That’s the difference between governance in the light of day and governing in the dark.

House Democrats should deeply reconsider this push for progress at any cost, even at the risk of re-evaluating options. That’s always politically risky, but there’s never a wrong time to do the right thing, Madam Speaker.

Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.

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29 responses to “Democrats Govern in the Dark

  1. The process as moving forward in the Senate is problematic. But you can see the legislators interacting, the work on the floor involves all, and they are taking testimony in committee. Ironically, what is happening is a huge advantage for lobbyists and activists because they can focus their attention on Senate bills in Senate committees and let the house stew for a while, being bombarded with emails and texts. It is like the military mistake of dividing your forces and letting the enemy chop you up piecemeal.

    Most telling of all, however, has been the savage criticism of the House from senior Democrat senators, people a new, green and eager House speaker should be consulting. She clearly did not clue them in or give them a chance to suggest anything. A House organization resolution rejected 40-o? The contrast is marked.

    Other states have wrestled with this and I don’t know how well or badly they did. But the House is an embarrassment right now. This isn’t partisan sniping, I’ve always considered myself more of a House person than Senate, but this is painful.

  2. Agree Steve. I support virtual but I don’t understand how the House pushed the rules through and isn’t already at work. I don’t understand how things are going to work out since there is no agreed upon plan by the House and Senate. It’s always important but vital now.

    I’d like to see this work for the House – and all of us. It’s a shame things are being managed without real input from House R’s and even ignoring Senate D’s. Even if the Senate D’s said it’s impossible, they need to be in the loop and they clearly are not. Things need to change – and fast.

    • On Zoom the legislator can cut off the video and let their kid cast votes. Zero confidence in this process. On Zoom the committee chair or speaker can block audio. Shameful.

      • Zoom has also had some serious security issues. It is (or at any rate was) apparently not very hard to hack it and potentially take over one or more of the computers connected to a meeting. Several of the engineering firms I work with have stopped using it “for security reasons”.

        It’s possible they have fixed the problems some time in the last couple of months. I certainly hope so.

        • It’s my understanding that the security issues are being addressed. Use of waiting rooms, so you only let in those who should be let in, and / or passwords is recommended.

          From what I hear from their floor session, they are using a new link every day and seeking to ensure that the right people are on the zoom and no others.

          I’m more concerned about the ways that outside influencers might intervene. Some think it’s fine to involve others, such as key resource people on a specific topic, but others think it needs to come down to one person making their best decision. Do we even know what influences are around folks who are dispersed across the state?

          The ability of the person(s) moderating to ignore or turn off speakers of some participants is also a concern. As we saw Monday, even in person situations allow someone to be ignored, but does the use of technology make it harder for some to get attention?

          So many issues remain to be addressed. By forcing this methodology through, what are the Democratic House Leaders opening up in terms of challenges to unpopular decisions? I’m not sure we’re where we need to be right now.

          • “Do we even know what influences are around folks who are dispersed across the state?”

            Yes. You can’t tell if someone has the proverbial ( or even literal 🙂 ) gun to their head.

      • Pants optional.

  3. Excellent post by Mr. Kennedy.

  4. It’s a new thing , needs some time – and some pressure from the public because there’s always some cretins willing to take advantage of changes.

    In the end – there is no reason why there cannot be a secure way of conducting legislative business nor obstacles to voters being part of the process.

    I’m disappointed that the Dems are screwing up , actually more than but I’m pretty sure if the GOP were in charge, we’d not see better and maybe worse… because all those years they were in charge we had to depend on Richmond Sunlight for reasonable access to the process.
    And we STILL have to rely on an independent non-profit organization to go get the money data and put it in a form average people can use.

  5. Giving the Virginia House of Delegates access to Zoom is like giving the keys to the family car to a drunken teenager.

    Virginia needs a provision for voters to throw politicians out of office between elections.

    • “Virginia needs a provision for voters to throw politicians out of office between elections.”

      We do have a process albeit a very difficult one. I once started down that road with an elected official. I had about 1/4 the number of signatures I needed on the petition for a court hearing when the gentleman resigned.

      PS – Technically, I guess it would not be “the voters” who throw the person out of office, it would end up being a judge, but participation by a significant number of voters is needed in order to schedule a court hearing.

  6. https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/house/chamber/chamberstream.php

    Underway now if you are interested. They just got crossed up and did the pledge twice, which is better than not….lots of muttering onto unmuted audio…

    “Can you hear me now?” shouts the speaker.

    • The joys of conference calls, someone forgets they aren’t muted and starts a phone call or conversation with someone else. Is so loud they don’t hear the requests to mute and everyone gets to hear their confidential conversation.

  7. To better understand what is what is happening in the Virginia House of Delegates, the Virginia Governor’s office, at the University of Virginia., and increasingly around the state in colleges and universities and local government agencies, how we all are on the cusp of a Marxist revolution in Virginia and America, everyone here needs to read this essay by Yoram Hazony, The Challenge of Marxism, found in Quillette.

    Here is that article’s frightening introduction:

    “I. The collapse of institutional liberalism

    For a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, most Americans and Europeans regarded Marxism as an enemy that had been defeated once and for all. But they were wrong. A mere 30 years later, Marxism is back, and making an astonishingly successful bid to seize control of the most important American media companies, universities and schools, major corporations and philanthropic organizations, and even the courts, the government bureaucracy, and some churches. As American cities succumb to rioting, arson, and looting, it appears as though the liberal custodians of many of these institutions—from the New York Times to Princeton University—have despaired of regaining control of them, and are instead adopting a policy of accommodation. That is, they are attempting to appease their Marxist employees by giving in to some of their demands in the hope of not being swept away entirely.

    We don’t know what will happen for certain. But based on the experience of recent years, we can venture a pretty good guess. Institutional liberalism lacks the resources to contend with this threat. Liberalism is being expelled from its former strongholds, and the hegemony of liberal ideas, as we have known it since the 1960s, will end. Anti-Marxist liberals are about to find themselves in much the same situation that has characterized conservatives, nationalists, and Christians for some time now: They are about to find themselves in the opposition.

    This means that some brave liberals will soon be waging war on the very institutions they so recently controlled. They will try to build up alternative educational and media platforms in the shadow of the prestigious, wealthy, powerful institutions they have lost. Meanwhile, others will continue to work in the mainstream media, universities, tech companies, philanthropies, and government bureaucracy, learning to keep their liberalism to themselves and to let their colleagues believe that they too are Marxists—just as many conservatives learned long ago how to keep their conservatism to themselves and let their colleagues believe they are liberals.

    This is the new reality that is emerging. There is blood in the water and the new Marxists will not rest content with their recent victories. In America, they will press their advantage and try to seize the Democratic Party. They will seek to reduce the Republican Party to a weak imitation of their own new ideology, or to ban it outright as a racist organization. And in other democratic countries, they will attempt to imitate their successes in America. No free nation will be spared this trial. So let us not avert our eyes and tell ourselves that this curse isn’t coming for us. Because it is coming for us.

    In this essay, I would like to offer some initial remarks about the new Marxist victories in America—about what has happened and what’s likely to happen next.

    II. The Marxist framework

    Anti-Marxist liberals have labored under numerous disadvantages in the recent struggles to maintain control of liberal organizations. One is that …” End Quote.

    For more of this fine essay see:
    https://quillette.com/2020/08/16/the-challenge-of-marxism/

  8. Hey, all you guys wanted a special session. So, as the venerable saying goes, “Be careful what you ask for.” You should have known that Filler-Corn was going to push for a virtual session. She pushed it for the reconvened session, but lost the procedural vote, which required two-thirds agreement. For a one or two session, it was not worth fighting. She had time in the interim to figure out how to get her way.

    I am sure that I am on record as saying that a special session was not needed. Even Aubrey Layne is saying that it is not needed for reasons of the budget. One then wonders: So, why did the Governor call one?

    • Re: ” So, why did the Governor call one?”

      That’s a good question if Layne and Northam don’t see a need on the budget?

      Is it other legislation that some in the GA want?

      On the virtual. Changes from in-person to virtual has changed the way we do “business” and I think perhaps in a good way if we insist on doing it “right”.

      For instance, if done “right” Citizens from all over the Commonwealth – should be able to not only “sit in” on a virtual committee meeting but watch the votes. Once they get this straight, what would be the reason for closed committee hearings or unrecorded votes?

      People are rightfully wary that the un-good guys might use change to make things worse.

      • There has long been a requirement that meetings be open. (When I first started working for Legislative Services, meetings of the House Appropriations Committee were closed, even to GA members not on the committee!) Also, all votes must be recorded. Until a few years ago, subcommittee votes were not recorded, but the Republicans finally acceded to haviing them recorded after long and heavy criticism.

        • B0th Richmond Sunlight and VPAP have had to swim upstream to get data that the public is entitled to.

          It’s not that it was outright denied – it was “procedural”

          VPAP does not receive financial data. They have to go to the state to get it – and before VPAP – you’d have to go to the state office, in person, to look a paper…

          With Waldo Jaquith and Richmond Sunlight – he was having trouble just getting basic info on bills and the actions taken on them. LIS was terrible, almost unusable but grudgingly got better when it was clear that it could be done by Richmond Sunlight – which was created and maintained with no state funding – just non-profit funding.
          https://www.richmondsunlight.com/about/site/

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            Why should VPAP get financial data, rather than going to state records to get it?

            As for Richmond Sunlight and LIS, I have never understood your problems with LIS. Maybe it is because I have worked with it since it came on line, but I have never found it “almost unusable”. The only feature that Sunlight has that is not on LIS is reader comments and a poll, which do not interest me. A major disadvantage of Richmond Sunlight is the inability to even view, much less print, any fiscal impact statement. I just discovered another major deficiency with Richmond Sunlight compared to LIS. LIS provides much more detailed information on the state budget bill, such as member amendments and the conference report. As you would imagine, that is particularly important to me.

          • VPAP had to create an app to do what the State should have done because what the state provides is (or was) not really useable for anything except the most basic queries.

            I have to ask – if LIS was so good why did Waldo create Richmond Sunlight?

            LIS may be better than before but before – just doing a simple query for bills that involved transportation was abysmal.

            I think for folks who already knew the bills – worked within the GA – it was fine but if you’re a citizen looking to see all the bills related to transportation Richmond Sunlight is far better.

            RS also lets you set an alert that tells you when action has occurred on a bill…

            I dunno about the fiscal impact statement so maybe that is not provided… maybe other stuff but again… if LIS was so good why did someone create RS?

          • Dick Hall-Sizemore

            LIS has always had a cumulative index in which one could look up bills by topic. It also has a report that lists all the Code sections that have been amended or added by bills.

            I have no idea why anyone went to the trouble of creating Richmond Sunlight, except to make the notification feature and the comments section available.

        • okay – find me the bills that involve both transportation and taxes
          or transportation and safety.

          Pretend you don’t know much about LIS and you’re a citizen who wants to find out what bills involve transportation and taxes
          or transportation and safety inspections.

          If I key in “transportation smart scale” in LIS I get zip.

          If I key that in to Richmond Sunlight – I get 9 hits.

          I suspect you guys don’t use LIS that way but your average citizen will…

          I know from my involvement on a local transportation board that there are bills involving smart scale … so LIS does not show me but Richmond Sunlight does.

          I think this is why RIchmond sunlight was created. People could not find basic info with LIS.

          Let me guess.. you had someone help you learn how to use LIS, right? 😉

          I think LIS was primarily designed NOT for citizens to use but legislators and those directly involved with legislation.

          • I just entered “smart scale” in the search block at LIS and got about 10 hits.

          • did not do that yesterday! I had to drop down to the
            SEARCHABLE DATABASES
            Bills & Resolutions

            GO to RS – there is one search window –

            While you’re at RS – click on “newest” under legislation, listed by date and clickable…

            Now go try to do that on LIS.

            LIS IS “better” than they were a few years back – but I still find it not as easy to navigate and find info than Sunlight. LIS is written like old database applications used to be. RS works like modern databases…

            Campaign finance info is like LIS was a few years ago. It’s a mess. just try to find who the major donors are or who the big PACs gave money to.

            In both cases – the State itself should be providing a modern and user-friendly capability similar to RS and VPAP… and then let those private-sector apps provide value-added for a cost that would help pay their costs.

            The basic function is a state responsibility in my view.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Filler Corn has positioned the speakership into a place of great power. Whether you like it or not, she has demonstrated great political skill. I expect there will be a considerable number of bills to clear the house and the senate. It will be interesting to see Northam’s actions on passed bills. Will he go along with the agenda or make his mark with the no vote or line item veto? Is it possible that Filler Corn could surpass Northam as the well of political power in Virginia? I think so.

      • The HOD speaker has always been an uber-powerful position no matter what party holds it. I’m sure folks remember Howell and Philpot and others. As James says, the speaker rivals the Governor in power.

  9. I think the complaint for both LIS and the SBE campaign finance is that they have the data but their user tools are not as good as Richmond Sunlight and VPAP – both of which are more intuitive to use and provide the capability for users to do more comprehensive searches.

    Furthermore, as far as I can tell, neither VPAP nor Richmond Sunlight receive much if any help financially and the former has had to try to find a way to actually adequately fund itself by relying on donations and RS is pretty much pro bono…. Both have had to negotiate with the State over what is called “bulk data” retrievals – which they need to be able to efficiently process the data and make it available to users.

    My view, and I realize it may be a minority one, is that the State is responsible for providing to citizens – easy to use tools for campaign finances and legislation.

    I think it’s great that we have two groups willing to work their butts off to bring this data to citizens – but what if they were not or they bail – what then?

    I just think this is a State responsibility – and again, I realize Dick, Steve, others may not agree.

  10. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Here is a great example of Filler Corn’s wizardry in crafting an agenda in the dark. HB 5030. Major revision to the War Memorials Law. Can somebody correct me if I am wrong? The proposed bill seems to state that a locality can remove, relocate, or alter any memorial no matter when it was put it or IF IT IS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY or public property. This is a bill that will clear the committee and go on to a larger vote and it will never get an honest discussion.
    https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?202+ful+HB5030

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