Denise Ross hates closed caucuses, but the SDNA chief thinks they're ok.

Over at the Aberdeen American News website, they've posted an associated press story by Chet Brokaw that has Hog House Blogger Denise Ross complaining about closed caucuses, and Dave Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association saying they're ok:

For an hour or so before each day's floor session, the lawmakers in each chamber meet in separate, private party caucuses to discuss bills, strategies and other issues.

And in the final days of a legislative session, the lawmakers frequently will stop public debate and disappear into private caucus meetings, said Denise Ross, a former reporter for the Rapid City Journal. The legislators then reappear and decide the fate of the year's most important bills, she said.


Ross, who covered the Legislature for six years, said she objects because lawmakers hold closed meetings in the Capitol, the most public of all buildings in South Dakota.


Dave Bordewyk, general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, said he is not bothered by the closed caucuses because such discussions are just part of the Legislature's organizational process.
Read all of this long article here.

I can tell that it's a really, really slow news time when reporters are dragging this one out. I think it's an almost annual thing when the MSM complains about caucuses being closed. And then it goes back in the vault for a year or two until they decide that the quotes need to be updated.

The legislature is not like a non-partisan school board. It is the most obviously partisan political arena that exists within our governmental structure, and that give and take between parties is also part of the function.

I'd look at it as the great filter for ideas. There are so many ideas coming from the people they represent; revolutionary ones, mild changes, goofyness of all shapes and flavors, and so on. The structure and process seems almost intentionally designed to filter out those ideas that are too radical for the moment, as well as those that are too ridiculous for any point in history.

The bills are dissected and discussed at many levels - at the point of committee, on the floor - and YES, there is information provided in caucus.

From my observations, at the caucus level it's more informal. The caucus leader might take the time to note "many of you question this part of a bill - this is why it's that way." Or legislators might ask what they think to be stupid questions that they'd never ask on the floor, and this is the place they get to do it.

Are there political discussions? On both sides, absolutely there is. There's also momentary hissy fits, harsh language, and many other things that are said that aren't appropriate. But if every moment of every day in a legislator's professional life required that they guard their thoughts and words, lest something be taken incorrectly, I'd argue you'd see much less done. You'd see legislation where no one would take a risk. Or you'd have absolute anarchy where you'd never know what someone was coming with next because communication between legislators would cease.

But that's what the caucuses do. That's what they're for. It's a place for the free exchange of ideas between colleagues. It's for unguarded moments when you're otherwise in the spotlight 24-7.

It's not like the a newspaper like the Argus or Rapid City Journal is going to invite the public into their editorial meetings to hash out stories, and let people follow them around as they cover events just out of someone's morbid curiosity. It would be impossible for them to get their jobs done.

Just as the legislators need a few moments to get stupid questions and the political stuff out of the way before they go do the people's work.


Anonymous said…
I notice that Denise didn't get invited to that "other" evening caucus, despite all of her fishing for an invite.
Anonymous said…
PP - that is exactly right.
william R said…
The infra-liberal leftist media (the Rossies) hate any American social or Christian institution. They are impediments to their modern society and must be destroyed. For the Rossies, all must be reexamined because their incredible intellects demand that, even if it is a question settled thousands of years ago, they must reexamine and reinvent the issue. All of the intellectual and philosophical history of humankind is of no value to the Rossies, unless it can be used to promote their agenda.

I wonder if this would be an issue of concern to the Rossies if the Democrats controlled the state....I think not.
Anonymous said…
What gets me is that the Argus has hired the clearly partisan Ross to "report" for them. She is snide and opinionated on her blog, which is how it should be. But she covers the very things she overtly weighs in on. That hurts her credibility as a "journalist" for the Argus, in my opinion. But then again, why should anybody be surprised? The Argus loves lefty "journalists" anyway.
Anonymous said…
william r -

I've not often heard Denise Ross referred to with the phrase "incredible intellect"
william r said…
9:42, it is the oppinion all the Rossies have of themselves.
The caucuses should be open. The real decisions are made in caucus, not in floor debates and committees. The Democrats used to have their caucuses open. Even in the early 1970s, the Republicans did, until some idiot reporter tried to hide a recorder (Ask Terry Woster for the details.) The deal was with the media was that what was said was off the record in caucus.

I used to sit in on the Democrat caucuses. I also have a better understanding why the Democrats are the minority party. But it was a good experience and one that fostered openness.

Frankly, I think they should be open and on the record. What do our legislators have to hide?

As to destroying the institutions of government and society as Wm R suggests? The history of Western civilization is the history of expanding rights and openness. Denise Ross isn't calling for mob rule. Just a little fresh air.

Todd Epp
David Newquist Chair in Journalistic Ethics and Porkpie Hats
S.D. Watch

P.S. Hi, Charley House! I love you man!
Anonymous said…
Isn't it better that the parties admit that they are taking place, as opposed to meeting in the parking lot before session.
Anonymous said…
Hehehe! Good sentence, Epp!

"The deal WAS with the media WAS that what WAS said WAS off the record in caucus."

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear!
Anonymous said…
If you think closed caucus is bad what about the closed appropriation committee meetings? I really want to hear the so-called conservatives that criticize Ross respond.
Anonymous said…
In my criticism of Ross as an overt partisan who also writes for a "newspaper," I didn't say I disagreed with her push for open caucuses. I happen to agree with that, and applaud her efforts in that regard.
Anonymous said…
The point is, there are certain discussions that, by their nature, are not going to take place in public. If you open up the caucuses, the meetings take place elsewhere - probably informally and in smaller groups.

There is a serious question of right to free assembly, which the USSC has held includes the right to exclude people from an organization. If a legislature is going to have political parties, they need to be able to function - and that sometimes requires closed-door discussions.

And does anybody believe for a second that a "gentlemen's agreement" that caucuses are open, but off-the-record, would work for more than ten seconds? The Argus would hail the agreement, but as soon as something they didn't like was said, they'd print it anyway - and Randall Beck would print another "holier-than-though" editorial about how the newspaper had to weigh its off-the-record commitment to the public's right to know.

The problem is this: News media is supposed to at least attempt to be an unbiased observer. On these openness issues, they never are. Like anything, government has to balance between what should be open and what should be closed. Someone has to draw the line. The media always wants more openness, but it allows them to stir around, create controversy, and sell papers. But obviously not EVERYTHING can be open - so it's all a question of line-drawing. And the media never gives a far hearing to the other side - instead they just file losing lawsuits.
Anonymous said…
8:01, so what if we play "wack a mole" with the clowns that represent us? I find it offensive that our elective officials feel they must discuss public business in private. Do they think we can't handle their version of the truth? Or that we are unable to understand issues as well as they do? I can only assume you are an apologist for them for a reason, care to share it with us? Don't worry, we can handle it.
Anonymous said…
10:46 PM - it is the observer effect. The act of observing something changes that which is being observed. Opening up the caucuses will not allow you see what has been going on behind closed doors - because it will change the nature of the meetings. Legislators use those meetings to discuss party strategy, to ask questions they might be embarrassed to ask publicly, maybe even the express feelings more generally about the direction of the party. They talk about things that they don't want to be public. So if you open up the meeting, they won't talk about those things - they will do it privately, elsewhere.

You can say, if you want, that all meetings should be open so the public knows what is said and done all the time. Maybe that would be a good idea. But it is not possible. And yes - even the Democrats talk in secret about their strategy. I was only in Pierre a few times this year, but twice I happened to see Scott Heidpreim and Nancy Turbak having supper and having an intense discussion. I noticed that Terry Woster wasn't present and no one was taking minutes. That is how they system works.
Anonymous said…
The only reason that the Democrats leave their caucus open is becauase they are in the minority where they love to get on their soapbox and whine about the Republicans. One of the fundamental definitions of a caucus is a party meeting to determine strategy. Of course people like Todd Epp and other fellow Democrats would like open caucuses because they can plant people in there to spy on the Republicans. Like it our not, we have a politcal system that uses strategy and keeping the caucuses open at the Capital wouldn't do anything for the public. A previous poster was right on that the Dems simply meet in smaller groups, (they can all meet in the bathroom given their small numbers) to talk about their real political strategy. The media just wants to be able to Google all government records so they can drum up stories and this is just another attempt at persuading public opinion into demanding this kind of openness.
Jack said…
Closed caucuses aren't simply a South Dakota phenomenon or something only the Republicans do, and they are a problem in a democracy, so don't take this as a complaint solely about the SD legislature. I've seen legislatures controlled by the Democrats do the same thing (and frankly, more, in making decisions privately)
The argument that legislators can speak more freely in private ignores the fact that they are elected officials; voters have a right to know why decisions get made, and to vote against a legislator because they don't like his/her reasoning. Debating a bill shouldn't simply be ratifying a decision made privately.
I recognize that legislators will always try to make decisions in privte first but such privacy subverts the system

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