By Peter Galuszka

What is it about Virginia’s Republicans and secrecy?

Gov. Bob McDonnell has stirred the cackles of open government advocates and Democrats by keeping private “working groups” of his Governor’s Commission on Government Reform, one of his signature programs.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader and overnight budget hawk, has raised eyebrows by holding a meeting of his “advisory council” of supposedly ordinary constituents while keeping the media and possible critics out.

Anita Kumar broke the story about McDonnell’s shenanigans, noting that the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council believes the governor is breaking the law by holding closed meetings among his commission members who are supposed to hack out ideas on how to “streamline” government.

McDonnell’s people claim that the closed meetings are kosher because they are “working groups.” Another curiosity is that none of the four elected Democrats appointed by McDonnell to the commission are on any of the work groups.

Tucker Martin, McDonnell’s spokesman, has been quoted in a kind of New Orwellian Language that the meetings are private since: “More voices are being heard. More opinions are being considered. That kind of transparency can be difficult for some to properly conceptualize, as it is a relatively new way of doing business at the government level.”

What level of government is that anyway? The Kremlin level?

Megan Rhyne, writing in today’s op ed page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, has similar concerns. The executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government wrote that this “new way” of doing things might not be new at all but “instead is the very smoky, back-room dealing transparency in general, and FOIA in particular, seeks to eliminate.”

Maria Everett, executive director of the FOIA Council, says flatly that McDonnell is in violation of the law. Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, says the modus operandi is anything but reform.

Yes, you have to wonder what the buzz is about government “reform.” It seems to be a right wing code word for limiting the input of ordinary citizens in favor of big business and big Republican campaign contributors. It also smells of chopping government for the sake of chopping, ridding checks and balances and using the closed door to get rid of nettlesome regulations that may annoy business but may actuallyprovide safeguards for ordinary folk. In other words, it’s the kind of thing that goes down well with the lobbyists who run the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

The Cantor story is similar. He rented a conference room on Midlothian Turnpike in Chesterfield recently where he met with constituents who were on his so-called “advisory council.” Meeting with constituents is always a good idea, but Cantor has shut out the media. Why? Are they enemies? Ditto protestors from a liberal group, about 200 strong, who demonstrated against Cantor’s rampant budget cutting policies.And while anyone supposedly can sign up to be on a Cantor advisory council, some have said they weren’t allowed to participate.

Odd, then, that the very Republicans who are limiting basic American freedoms are the ones who so often wrap themselves up in the American flag.

What’s even sadder is that there isn’t an even stronger outcry.

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3 responses to “Virginia Reform, Kremlin-style”

  1. I join you in calling into question McDonnell’s holding of closed meetings to discuss legislative initiatives pertaining to governance reforms. They should all be open to the public. McDonnell should know better — and he should open up the meetings to the public. If he did, he’d probably find that no one would bother coming. Regardless, the public (and the press) should be allowed to attend if they wish.

    I’d like to know more about Cantor’s meetings, though, before singling him out for criticism. I’m betting his “advisory committee” is comprised of campaign donors. Politicians of both parties, all around the country, use the gimmick of creating some fancy-sounding group for campaign donors and then going through a great show of “consulting” their opinions. It’s all about money raising, and both parties do it.

    If there’s something more to Cantor’s meetings, then I will readily revise my opinion.

  2. I agree. The lack of transparency in Virginia politics is appalling. However, it’s hardly confined to the Republicans. Virginia’s Democrats ardently support UVA’s refusal to comply with legitimate FOIA requests in regard to work done at taxpayer expense by Michael Mann. They claim immunity from FOIA by citing “academic freedom”. Academic freedom no more confers immunity than “working groups”.

    Shame on both parties.

    Next, look at the General Assembly. Generally a very closed society of cigar chomping, back room wing nuts. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. I’ll name two – both Democrats. Chap Petersen and Scott Surovall. The former a state senator and the latter a delegate. Both maintain open and honest communications with their constituents and other stakeholders. Both take occasionally unpopular stands and publicly explain the basis for their positions. Both risk election time “blow back” by posting their thoughts on regularly updated blogs.

    Where is Janet Howell’s blog? Where did she defend her cowardly manipulation of the redistricting process in an a Gerry-mandered attempt to save her seat?

    Where is Dick Saslaw’s blog?

    The vast majority of Virginia’s politicians operate like cockroaches in a darkened kitchen. They disappear down a rat hole until about 90 days before an election. Then, they pop up and make some inane election speeches which say nothing, They then disappear until the next election.

  3. . Then, they pop up and make some inane election speeches which say nothing, They then disappear until the next election.

    and Voters invariably reward them for that behavior….so what’s the problem?

    I too applaud Chap… and yes it’s a real pain … considering some of the commenters who have issues with his stances….

    but I note that Dems usually show up at town hall meetings… and as of late.. the Republicans seem to be dodging them…

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