Thinktrain has moved! Redirecting…

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit and update your bookmarks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Where the sun don't shine

The U.S. Senate joined the House yesterday in passing legislation requiring disclosure for earmarks, which are often referred to as pet projects that legislators anonymously insert into spending bills. The disclosure legislation requires members of Congress to list their names along with any earmarks and certify that they do not have a financial stake in the projects in question.

The bill passed 98-0 because no one wants to be seen as anti-transparency come election time, and I'm glad this kind of policy will become law. It begs the question why this didn't happen a long time ago, but at least it has happened now.

Here in Tennessee, I hope our lawmakers will follow this national example when it comes to ethics and disclosure. The Tennessean reported earlier this week that while the public must follow a 10-step procedure to view how legislators voted on a particular bill via the General Assembly Web site, lawmakers themselves can see the same results with a single click.

In a political climate where many citizens already question the integrity on both sides of the aisle, this inconsistency at the very least reinforces the perception that lawmakers don't want the sun to shine on their activities on the Hill. Senator Rosalind Kurita called this week for a new focus on open government in the wake of John Wilder's ouster as speaker of the Senate. I completely agree with the need for this change in direction:

It was time for a change in the structure [in the Senate]. The dedication to keeping a status quo was preventing our state from putting real energy and bi-partisan effort into solving problems and moving Tennessee forward. I chose to break the logjam so there can be a vigorous, but civil, policy discussion over the current and future direction of our state. We face a host of issues—from improving education, healthcare, and job creation to new alternative energy proposals and a more open government. We cannot afford gridlock or stagnation if we are to help solve these problems. It may seem ironic to some, but only now are Democrats and Republicans free to work together on real issues. I voted my conscience.

Open government should also be a part of the legislative agenda. One way to accomplish this would be to allow every voter an equal opportunity to vote for our state's constitutional officers: Secretary of State, State Treasurer and Comptroller. They are currently elected by the members of the General Assembly. Tennessee is one of very few states where voters are not empowered to make such important decisions on high-ranking government officials. Letting our citizens vote increases accountability and makes sure government is held accountable...

Every member of the Senate is tired of being 49th in so many areas. I intend to work with my fellow Democrats and Republicans as well as the new Lt. Governor to create legislation that moves our state forward. The era of the smoke-filled back room is over and we are now free to have a healthy public policy debate that can only benefit the citizens of this great state.
As I mentioned earlier, this era should have begun a long time ago, but I am grateful that it is happening now. There will always be political maneuvering in the General Assembly, but Tennessee is taking baby steps toward having a more open and honest governing body. I hope this trend continues, including making it easier for local residents to see how their elected officials voted on the bills put before them.

No comments: