The GOP spin machine and reporter Bob Mercer are in full rebuttal mode against Rep. Stace Nelson's latest open-government legislation. The Fulton Fulminator's House Bill 1172 would require any meeting at which a majority of legislators discuss legislation to be open to the public. GOP sycophant Pat Powers declares the measure political "showboating" and collaboration with Democrats that unfairly targets Republicans.
Follow the logic here: Powers is saying that Nelson is befriending Democrats and undermining Republicans to win publicity and votes in a Republican primary. It must be a zen thing.
Mercer piles on to say HB 1172 won't work because it doesn't affect the minority party and because party leaders can get around it with whip meetings and the committee process.
Neither Powers nor Mercer gets the real point of the bill. Rapid City Mayor Sam Kooiker does:
I think HB1172 to implement simple quorum rules for the Legislature makes perfect sense. Some legislators will probably oppose it because Stace Nelson is a sponsor and other legislators will oppose it because they see it as "grandstanding by Democrats" in an election year. I hope people will look past the perceived personal motives, and instead look at this bill for what it is: a simple, logical and long overdue rule to require the legislature to abide by the same rules that all local governments do.
How fair is it for the Legislature to be able to have a quorum talking about serious policy issues, when local governments do not have the same ability? If the Legislature is serious about consistent open government, they would support his bill wholeheartedly regarding of personal dislike of who the sponsors might be [Sam Kooiker, comment, Madville Times, 2014.01.31].
The quorum rule always affects the majority party differently from the minority party. At the local level, the quorum rule stops the Republicans on the Lake County Commission from having secret meetings, but it currently doesn't affect any Democrats. Such is the price of victory.
The quorum rule always has workarounds. If the Lake County commissioners want to get around the quorum rule, Scott could chat with Kelli, and then Kelli could chat with Dan, and then Dan with Ron, Ron with Roger, Roger with Scott. But we don't throw in the towel and make off-the-record collusion among scheming commissioners easy.
Mayor Kooiker expressed his support for HB 1172 at the Rapid City crackerbarrel yesterday. House Majority Leader David Lust (R-34/Rapid City) said everyone else is doing closed caucuses, so why can't we? He said HB 1172 would just drive secret strategy meetings underground into smaller groups, which I suspect would make it harder for the majority leader to impose his schemes on his colleagues... which is exactly the point of the quorum rule.
Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) wants to address Lust's and Mercer's concern about workarounds by taking HB 1172 even further:
Although I'm not a co-sponsor of the bill, having looked at it. The only thing I would suggest that we add to it is that if a majority of a committee that's listening to legislation meets, those meetings should also be open to the public. What I mean by that is sometimes there are meetings of a committee's majority that are secret and they discuss how a bill is going to be disposed of before listening to testimony. That decision shouldn't be made before testimony by people who may have driven four or five hours to get there. I agree with the premise. What's good for the goose is good for the gander [Rep. Lance Russell, in Scott Feldman, "Crackerbarrel: In Their Own Words," Rapid City Journal, 2014.02.02].
Forget who's sponsoring the bill. Forget which party happens to be affected at this particular moment in history. Address the general principle: should a quorum of an elected body be able to meet in secret to discuss public policy? South Dakota has answered that question in the negative for almost every elected body in the state. The Legislature is the exception to the quorum rule. Nelson, Kooiker, Russell, and I see the wisdom in ending that exception and following that rule.