In October 2004, when she ran against House Republican Caucus Chair Julie Ellsworth, Boise Democrat Phylis King had this to say about party caucuses.
"Transparency in government is essential to keep the trust of the citizenry," King said in a Statesman candidate questionnaire. "There is the perception that a government that operates in secrecy is more prone to corruption. Citizens have a right to information — it's the foundation of democracy."
Given that, it's disappointing that it was King who showed Statesman reporter Dan Popkey the closed door Tuesday, when House Democrats caucused to discussed proposed gas tax increases. Click here for Popkey's story.
Democratic Caucus Chair Bill Killen, also of Boise, apologized Tuesday and said the minority caucus remains committed to open sessions. I hope that's the case.
But the backstory is important. After all, it was the Democrats who decided on their own several years ago to open party caucuses — and to make open caucuses into a campaign issue.
Caucuses were a hotter issue a few years back. Senate Republicans went behind closed doors to hammer out details of 2001 tax cuts; two years later, they spent hours caucusing about tax increases. In 2002, House Republicans held a straw poll in closed caucus on a controversial bill to repeal term limits. Media groups criticized the practice. As vice president of the Idaho Press Club, I worked on the group's behalf to urge lawmakers to open caucuses, or at least tighten the rules for closed caucuses.
Amidst that backdrop, Democrats opted for open caucuses. I recognize there was some gamesmanship to it — an attempt to embarrass the GOP and call attention to one-party legislative politics. I also think the Democrats took a gutsy, laudable step, opening their strategy sessions to the public.
I hope the Democrats remain committed to openness — and, as Killen suggests, Tuesday's closed meeting was a one-time mistake.
Now, if only Republicans would accidentally open a caucus for once ...
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