I have enjoyed observing first signs of tangible impact from the recent decision by Speaker Chris Benge to provide a live video feed of House proceedings on the Internet.
When I served as a City Councilman in Guthrie, I made the observation that the city policy makers' decision to televise city council meeting had an impact on city policy. No longer could councilmen count on supporting bad policy with the knowledge that the public would be unable to see their actions in context. This important transparency limited policy leaders' ability to cloak their opposition to good policy in the usual cliches and sound bytes because they could not risk the fact that the public had seen the whole debate and were aware of the true context of the issue.
Providing a video feed of House proceedings will have the exact same impact. Legislators are professionals at opposing change based on the flimsiest excuses. Earlier this year, the House debated a bill to put in place new openness policies and expand the ability of the public to access government performance data online. I believe these types of initiatives will revolutionize the way citizens are able to hold government accountable and and has the potential to help put an end to abuses of the taxpayer dollars in Oklahoma government. As an example, with strong performance data made available to the citizens regarding state agency performance I believe it will become very difficult for past scandals such as the ghost employee scandal to re-occur.
Those debating against the effort pointed to tired old arguments against transparency such as the minimal cost of allowing access or utilized scare tactics to inaccurately claim that such openness would provide too much information to citizens. Had this debate occurred last year, I suspect that would have been the end of this story. However, a writer with the Oklahoman posted a link to the video of the debate on the NewsOK.com web site and the public became aware of the debate and the effort to prevent transparency. By the end of the week I was being contacted by citizens outraged by the disingenuous debate, people wanting a breakdown of the votes, and a candidate who wanted to talk about the issue in his campaign.
As more and more instances like this take place, lawmakers will learn the power of this new medium. I suspect they will greatly fear being exposed on sites such as YouTube when they debate against a transparency proposal using the same tired excuse-based logic. Because many lawmakers aspire to higher office, the last thing they want is to have a future opponent expose their opposition to good policy by simply sending a link to a video clip.
Providing a live video feed of House proceedings took great courage by House leadership. I believe that this single act will provide the leverage necessary to enable a series of good policy legislation to meet with success.