the Republican Descent
an act of unparalleled arrogance, Republicans in the
House of Delegates voted to exempt the legislature
from the Freedom of Information Act.
the near future, folks who follow Virginia
history and politics will look back and mark the
demise, the end, of Republican dominance in Virginia
to a single 24-word piece of legislation now before
the Virginia General Assembly.
won’t have anything to do with the budget, or tax
reform, with whether money is borrowed, or levied,
or how it is spent. It
won’t have anything to do with transportation, or
law enforcement, or education.
It won’t have anything to do with abortion,
or gun rights, the Ten Commandments, or same-sex
won’t have anything to do with how our judges are
won’t have anything to do with these issues —
all grave, all serious — because, in the end, they
don’t really matter — not historically.
are the issues that are making headlines now.
These are the issues that are consuming so
much deliberative energy now.
But these are relatively short term
things all get sorted out in the ebb and flow of any
are not watershed issues.
They are not the separators, the dividing
places, the buoys. They
are not the markers in the rivers of our
see, most folks can make a credible argument either
way on these things. For,
against, or undecided — most folks, certainly most
legislators, can defend, with some credibility, any
position taken on any of these issues.
demise in Virginia
will mark its beginning with passage of Morgan
1357) exempting the legislature from the
state’s Freedom of Information Act. In the words
of the bill: "Public access to any meeting
of the General Assembly or a portion thereof shall
be governed by rules established by the Joint Rules
ascended in Virginia
on hard work and principles, on conviction and
values and ideas. They
will descend on arrogance.
1357 is the beginning of that descent. There is no
defense — none — for a consent vote on this
is the height of imperialism.
It is arrogance defined.
With this single piece of legislation,
Griffith and his cronies in the House — mostly
senior Republicans who make up the so-called
‘leadership’ — express to the people of
a repulsive sentiment, a sentiment that the people
will not long tolerate.
of this bill say to the citizens of Virginia, to more than seven million of us, “We are above
the law. We
impose the law on you, but not on ourselves.
We are above it.”
is an affront to freedom.
It is an affront to democracy. It is an affront to every Virginian, be they
Democrat, Republican, or political agnostic.
single greatest check on any government is the light
and scrutiny of access, of free, unfettered access,
by the subjects of that government — in a
democracy, by the people who elect it.
House Bill 1357 has the potential to turn out
that light, the potential to block that access, the
potential to shroud our state government in a
curtain of secrecy.
that a good thing?
it palatable, under any circumstance?
Cuba. In Czechoslovakia. In a lot of
the old Baltic states.
In China. In Russia. In Argentina. In most of
what used to be those pipsqueak-tinhorn-dictator-
inSouth America. In Iraq. In Iran. In
Syria. In North Korea.
to the whim of a handful of legislators who make up
the Joint Rules Committee — and Griffith is one of
them — it separates — no, not just separates,
but potentially could actually bar — seven million
Virginians from their government.
To its marrow.
and through. To
its core. You
want evidence? This
bill passed out of the House 52-48 vote.
Fifty Republicans voted for it and two
Democrats — Onzlee Ware, of Roanoke, and Johnny
Joannou, of Portsmouth.
reconsideration, let’s restate that:
Fifty-one Republicans and one Democrat —
Onzlee Ware —v oted for it.
voting for House Bill 1357, these 52 individuals
expressed a dangerous disdain for freedom and
democracy, a dangerous disdain for the constitution,
a dangerous disdain for the people who elected them.
see, those who favor this legislation hold you and
me, the citizens and taxpayers of Virginia, in abject contempt, though this government is ours
in every sense of the word.
1357 screams, “Get out!” to the people of Virginia. And it does
something worse than that.
HB 1357 sets a few individuals up as our
masters in all matters of state government.
It says that we may see only what they say we
may see. It
says that we may participate only when they say we
It says we may question only what they say we
1357 says that the free citizens of Virginia
must — if they want to participate in their own
government — bow and kiss the rings of a small
handful of legislators who make up the Joint Rules
Virginians will get used to bowing and scraping
again. But I
doubt it. It
has been too long since we’ve had to do it.
bill is now before the Virginia Senate.
there is any justice in the world — and in this
instance there is — it manifests itself in the
fact that the final vote in the House on HB 1357 was
will be no future ducking on this one.
How individual members of the House and
Senate behaved in the matter of this seminal bill
will be evident for all to see.
questions will be straightforward:
Did you vote to remove the legislature from Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act?
As a delegate, as a senator, as my delegate,
as my senator, did you vote to exempt yourself from
a law that you impose on me?
will be no hiding. No
“I don’t recalls.”
this day. Thus
begins the Republican descent in
Virginia, a descent born of contempt for the people of
Virginia, a descent born of arrogance.
totality of my feelings? Quite frankly, they are
mixed. As a
Virginian, I am enraged by the imperialism of this
bill, but as a Democrat contemplating this descent,
my inner angels flee the field and the Devil
whispers to me, “Thank you, Morgan Griffith.”
February 16, 2004