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"Government is not the solution…it is the problem" -Ronald Reagan



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Sime: Opening up Virginia government to the citizens again

Posted by Stephen on June 13, 2007

OpEd by Arin Sime

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have shown signs that their main focus is maintaining power.  Neither of them have a strong incentive to open government to scrutiny, and leaders of each party (at least when they’re in the majority) will try to reduce public scrutiny of their actions and reduce their accountability.

For over a year now, I have campaigned around Virginia’s 24th State Senate District and spoken with voters across party lines.  As the Libertarian candidate for this seat, I’ve spoken to Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, and a lot of people who feel so disconnected with our system of governance that they don’t even bother to vote.   I knew in my heart when I started my campaign that there are a lot of people out there just fed up with all the partisan bickering, politicking, and gamesmanship.  I knew there were a lot of people like that, who are disgruntled with politics as usual, because I am one of them.

What I didn’t know was just how many people like me there are, and although this may sound odd, it’s been very heartening to me the number of disgruntled voters I’ve met.  I’ve discovered that voters across party lines want open and accountable government, but they know they aren’t getting it from the Republicans and the Democrats. 

It’s my firm belief that any candidate who lays their allegiance with one of the major parties is going to have a very difficult time leading the charge for real reform in Richmond, because both their parties have too many special interests vying for influence.

My open government platform consists of the following planks, which together I believe will help open up our government to the citizens again, and will help grass roots activists have more influence in Richmond.  This is not meant to be an all encompassing list, as I’m sure there are many other things we can do, but I hope this will help get the conversation going.

First, we need to restore accountability, and repeal the Republican rule that prevents subcommittee votes from being recorded.  This rule has made it hard for voters to analyze who voted for or against bills they supported, because so many bills are killed in committee. 

As a grass roots activist in Richmond, I have heard how the General Assembly leadership sends bills they don’t want to specific subcommittees where they know the bills will be killed, and the members of that subcommittee face no accountability to their constituents because the votes aren’t recorded.  This isn’t just Republicans killing Democratic bills, or vice versa.  Sometimes it’s Republican leadership quietly killing controversial bills they know their base supports, but which they don’t want to have put before a recorded vote.

Another important reform is enacting term limits on the members of the General Assembly.  I’ve had the opportunity to get to know more members of the General Assembly over the last few years, and it’s my belief that they are generally good people who go to Richmond with good intentions.  But the longer they stay, the more they want to keep their power and the more they tend to listen to lobbyists instead of the average citizen back home.  I pledge to serve no more than two terms in the State Senate, and I will support term limit legislation to bring back the concept of the “citizen legislator.”

Speaking of lobbyists, I am also pledging from this point forward not to take donations from corporate PAC’s during my campaign.  I think it’s a good thing that Virginia election law allows unlimited donations but with strong disclosure laws, but I pledge to voluntarily go beyond those laws.  When advocating for the rights of small farmers in Richmond, I have seen the sway that corporate lobbyists have over many of our legislators.  I will not risk having my votes compromised by who gave money to my campaign.

I have been to Richmond before advocating for citizens rights on issues like property taxes, farming, and property rights.  I know that it’s not easy for your average citizen to take a day off from work, drive to Richmond, and sit in a long committee meeting waiting for their one bill to come up just to see how their Delegate or Senator votes.  In this age of technology, I support bills like HJ757 that would encourage web casting General Assembly committee meetings, and open up the process to more voters.

There are many other things that we can do to help ensure open government.  Encouraging more competitive elections by instituting a non partisan redistricting process would be a nice start, since so few seats in the General Assembly are even challenged.  Virginia should also become one of the states actively opposing the REAL ID act being proposed by the federal government.  That’s federal legislation, and I don’t get a vote on whether it will ultimately pass or not, but there is an impact on the states.   This proposal would cost the states hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs, with no real benefit, and with significant risks to your personal privacy.

Ultimately, the only way we have to hold politicians accountable is through our votes, and so it’s essential that your vote counts.  That’s why I will support Verifiable Voting measures that ensure our elections are secure, do not rely on a single company or closed software development process, and that can be easily and independently audited.

These may sound like some grandiose solutions that are unlikely to be enacted.  Certainly, it’s true that no one State Senator can enact anything they want – I have to get at least 20 other Senators to agree with me.  And 51 Delegates and the Governor.

But that doesn’t mean that one person can’t make a difference in Richmond.  Some of the issues I mentioned, like webcasting and recording sub-committee votes, are discussed in Richmond already but need more votes.  Other issues like term limits aren’t mentioned much (those already in the General Assembly have little incentive to push to end their careers).  That doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy support among other members of the General Assembly however.  We just need more leadership in Richmond that truly believes in open and accountable government.

It’s my position that the power of lobbyists, special interests, and party-line votes is such that few members of the major parties can be effective leaders on this topic.  But those are the types of leaders I believe we need.  I hope you agree.

Arin Sime is the Libertarian candidate for the 24th district State Senate seat.

Views expressed by OpEd writers do not necessarily reflect those of management of Conservative Viewpoints.

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