Ramsey Favors Open GOP Caucus Meetings

Both the Democratic and Republican caucuses routinely bar media and the public from attending their meetings — a contrast from a few years ago. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey tells Andrea Zelinski that as a “general rule” he thinks the meeting should be open. House Speaker Beth Harwell, well, not so much.
“We don’t want to look like we’re hiding things behind closed doors,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, speaker of the Senate, telling The City Paper his chamber’s Republican Caucus meetings will be open “as a general rule.”
“I just think nine times out of 10, in life in general, most problems are caused by misunderstandings and from lack of information. When you see the sunlight shine on us, you say, ‘I see why you do that now,’ ” he said.
Those meetings should only be closed when the caucus elects its leadership next month or when “the family has fights within the family,” he said. “But if we’re discussing state policy, it’s open and always has been as far as I know.”
In the House, lawmakers aren’t so sure how wide they will extend their doors.
“One of the advantages of having a caucus meeting is to let people voice their opinions freely,” said Harwell who said she’d leave decisions to open normally closed-door meetings to the caucus.
Such closed-door meetings on the Hill fly in the face of the intent of the state’s open meetings law, which requires every other government entity to ensure even meetings between two voting members qualify as an appointment worthy of public announcement and scrutiny.
The issue is problematic particularly when Republicans in both chambers have enough members to conduct business without a single Democrat present, say open government advocates.
Republicans will have a 70-28 majority in the House of Representatives and a 26-7 majority in the Senate. In both chambers, the GOP holds a supermajority, or two-thirds of the chamber, and has the potential to hash out public policy debate in closed meetings instead of in public.
“Since the Republican-dominated legislature can pass any legislation at will, it will be more difficult for anyone to successfully challenge bills presented by the majority, but that makes it all the more important that objections to legislation be heard in committee and honestly debated,” said Kent Flanagan, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
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