No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Barnie Day



Thus Begins

the Republican Descent

In an act of unparalleled arrogance, Republicans in the House of Delegates voted to exempt the legislature from the Freedom of Information Act.


In 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.


It 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 marriages. It won’t have anything to do with how our judges are appointed.


It won’t have anything to do with these issues — all grave, all serious — because, in the end, they don’t really matter — not historically.


These 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 considerations. These things all get sorted out in the ebb and flow of any legislature. They are not watershed issues. They are not the separators, the dividing places, the buoys. They are not the markers in the rivers of our consciences.


You 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.


Republican demise in Virginia will mark its beginning with passage of Morgan Griffith’s bill (HB 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 Committee."


Republicans ascended in Virginia on hard work and principles, on conviction and values and ideas. They will descend on arrogance.


HB 1357 is the beginning of that descent. There is no defense — none — for a consent vote on this bill.


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 Virginia a repulsive sentiment, a sentiment that the people of Virginia will not long tolerate.


Proponents 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.”


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.


The 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.


Is that a good thing?


No. Never. Not ever.


Is it palatable, under any circumstance?


No. Never. Not ever.


Does it happen?


In 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-

countries inSouth America. In Iraq. In Iran. In Syria.  In North Korea.


Subject 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.


Republican? To its marrow. Solid. Through 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.


On reconsideration, let’s restate that: Fifty-one Republicans and one Democrat — Onzlee Ware —v oted for it.


By 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.


You 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.


HB 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 may participate.  It says we may question only what they say we may question.


HB 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 Committee.


Perhaps 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.


The bill is now before the Virginia Senate.


If 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 recorded.  There 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.


The 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?


There will be no hiding. No denials. No “I don’t recalls.”


Mark this day. Thus begins the Republican descent in Virginia, a descent born of contempt for the people of Virginia, a descent born of arrogance.


The 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


























Contact Information


Barnie Day

604 Braswell Drive
Meadows of Dan, VA