Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.E-mail: email@example.com
Forget all those legislative issues to watch we told you about. The big issue in legislatures this year is going to be YouTube, or more specifically, guerilla video tactics at the statehouse.
The video pasted here shows why. It's from Virginia, the state that brought us the "macaca" affair last year. Apparently, Virginia Democrats learned a lesson from seeing George Allen, caught at his worst, broadcast all over the internet. Their takeaway? Shoot video of everything going on at the capitol. Eventually, you'll catch your opponents doing something embarrassing, or at least something they'd rather not have captured on camera.
According to the Washington Post, Virginia Dems have an operative scouring the halls of the legislature with a webcam. They're posting clips on YouTube and on a Democratic blog called Assembly Access. Some clips, like this one of Republican Delegate Jeff Frederick playing cat-and-mouse with the camera, are cheap shots that only demonstrate in the clearest possibly way why guerilla video is distracting and why legislatures will probably want to impose some rules on it.
Not surprisingly, Republicans are plotting how to fight back.
"Unfortunately, they are ratcheting it up, and we are going to have our groups respond," H. Morgan Griffith, the Republican House majority leader, tells the Post. "Both sides can play that game."
Ick. I hope the adults will step in and settle this scrap before it gets out of control. The Democrats say they're merely trying to shed light on how laws are made. Or not made, in the case of their videos showing Republicans killing a minimum wage bill in committee. There's something to be said for sunshine in committee rooms. But this is not the way to do it.
Sunshine can come with dignity, in the style of C-SPAN, rather than in the "gotcha" style of documentarian Michael Moore. Many legislatures already broadcast live video of House and Senate floor proceedings online. They should do the same in committee meetings. These days, the equipment is so cheap there's no reason not to do it. If you think nobody watches these things you'd be surprised. Some of the most widely-read statehouse bloggers routinely watch legislative proceedings from home and liveblog along with the action.
Politicians deserve to be scrutinized, not brutalized. Good people won't want to go into politics any more if they need to be TV-ready every second of the day. As Vincent F. Callahan Jr., a Republican delegate since 1968, tells the Post, guerilla video is "indicative of a culture of viciousness that is infecting these halls....You are going to get shots of someone picking their nose and using it out of context in the fall election."
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.