One of the pledges Republicans made most often during the 2010 legislative campaigns was the promise to open up the legislative process and let the public and the media see important decisions being made.
It was part of their vow to restore the honor and integrity they claimed had been lost with the Democrats in control. The new Republican leaders had also repeatedly sponsored legislation in previous sessions to set up an independent commission to take the politics out of redistricting.
Good government groups hoped that meant that the new majorities would set up a commission by statute this year to draw the district lines and put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to keep the commission in place in the future.
Now almost two months into the legislative session, the Republicans seem to have changed their mind on both counts.
It is true that budget subcommittees have been meeting in public reviewing Governor Beverly Perdue’s budget proposals and hearing options to make further cuts.
But those sessions have been informational so far, with few if any decisions being made. It sounds like the real debate is happening somewhere else.
House Speaker Thom Tillis acknowledged this week that House and Senate budget writers have been meeting together in private closed-door sessions.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger says no decisions are being made in the closed meetings, but the Raleigh News & Observer quoted Tillis saying that House and Senate budget leaders were “working through some reconciliations.”
That is legislative speak for making decisions.
Tillis added that people ought that to be happy that the House and Senate are working out their differences in March instead of June and July when it has been done in the past. His position appears to be that secret budget meetings are ok if they are held earlier in the session than usual, not exactly fulfilling the spirit of the openness pledge made during the campaign.
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt pointed out this week that the secrecy is especially troubling because the Republicans are not just considering budget cuts, they are discussing major philosophical shifts in how state government operates.
Nesbitt’s comments prompted supporters of the Republican leadership and some media outlets to point out that Nesbitt has little room to talk since Senate Democrats also held closed door meetings when they put the budget together.
There’s some validity to the charge, but it’s tough to see how that excuses Republican leaders from failing to follow through on a campaign promise. They ran on opening up the budget process, not renaming decisions reconciliations and having closed-door meetings in March.
Republicans also seem to be running away from their previous support for an independent redistricting commission.
They announced after the November election that there wasn’t time to set up a commission to draw the districts this year, though they could have passed legislation to create one the first week of the session and it could already be hard at work drawing the lines.
Republican leaders said a more likely scenario was that lawmakers would put a constitutional amendment to create the commission before voters in 2012 so it would be in place the next time the districts were redrawn.
Now there’s talk that they are backing away from the constitutional amendment too.
Apparently an open budget process and less partisan redistricting procedure are only appealing when you are in the minority, no matter what you have promised.