After nine years of open party caucuses, Idaho Democrats met behind closed doors Monday, abandoning their argument that they are the champions of transparency at the Idaho Legislature.
Shortly before 11 a.m., a Democratic aide distributed a statement loaded with sports metaphors to reporters, saying the House and Senate caucuses had unanimously voted to closed their caucuses.
As the news release was distributed, 18 House Democrats and seven Senate Democrats met behind closed doors in their party’s House caucus room. An Idaho Statesman reporter who opened the door was advised that the meeting was closed.
Democrats opened their meetings in 2001 to emphasize their accountability to the public. They also sought to highlight the fact that the Republican majority’s closed meetings could decide critical issues because of their supermajorities in both houses. Democrats often complained that public business was being decided behind closed doors.
But last April, Democratic Rep. Brian Cronin of Boise advocated closing caucuses, saying Democrats were at a disadvantage because the minority party’s strategy can’t be kept quiet.
“Sports coaches don’t allow reporters into their halftime meetings with their teams,” Cronin said last year. “When we’ve got one party playing chess and the other playing by Candyland rules, it seems disadvantageous.”
At the time, House Democratic Leader John Rusche of Lewiston said Democrats would take the summer recess to discuss the issue and any changes wouldn’t be implemented until 2010. Cronin said he had already persuaded “quite a few” of his colleagues that the issue should be revisited.
In the news release, Senate Assistant Minority Leader Elliot Werk of Boise picked up on the theme sounded by Cronin. “If Coach Pete had opened his playbook to TCU before the Fiesta Bowl, the fake punt would have led to disaster – not victory,” Werk said.
Added House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti of Pocatello, “To maximize our effectiveness in the Legislature we must take the field with every advantage that we can muster.”
After Monday's 30-minute closed meeting, Ruchti said House Democrats voted last week to close their caucus. The meeting that was not announced on the House floor, as caucuses typically are.
Werk said Senate Democrats didn't hold a meeting, but "came to a consensus on the issue."
Asked about the consequences of reversing a policy of openness, Ruchti said, "This was about making sure we could represent our constituents as effectively as possible."
Monday's caucus was "mostly administrative" Ruchti said. Werk said the party will designate spokespersons to speak with the media about what was discussed in caucus.