The SDGOP spin blog tries to portray Republican legislators’ exclusive, invitation-only listening session last week as no big deal. Rather than address the elitist, anti-populist nature of the event organized by Republican Rep. David Johnson, Pat Powers diverts attention to the ongoing food fight for which he blames ultra-conservatives who violate the Reagan’s 80% rule and call fellow Republicans mean names.
While Powers remains mired in inside baseball, the story of real public interest is still the secretive nature of Rep. Johnson’s meeting with chosen and unnamed Black Hills bigwigs:
Johnson said 107 invitations to the event were distributed to community leaders, and the 40 attendees included Republicans, Democrats and independents who hold local or area leadership positions in realms including business, education, city government, public safety, law enforcement and health care. Johnson declined to release the list of invitees, saying he would rather allow the invitees to identify themselves if they wish. He said the event was funded by the legislators out of their own private funds [Seth Tupper, “Invite-Only Event Exposes Local Republican Rift,” Rapid City Journal, 2017.09.12].
Come on, Rep. Johnson: it’s not like you guys discussed secret plots or criminal activity. You tell Tupper that you discussed “poverty and its impact on early childhood education and the workforce; infrastructure problems related to airports, highways and railroads; and taxation.” I’m having a hard time thinking of any good reason for a public official to keep secret the names of forty prominent local leaders gathered in a room to give that public official and his colleagues ideas for those important areas of public policy.
Rep. Johnson’s exclusion of ultra-conservative legislators from the event reinforces the image of elitism:
Johnson said the seven legislators who organized the event wanted to hear nonpartisan ideas from local leaders about community and economic development. Johnson said the organizing legislators also wanted to set aside — for one evening — heated arguments about controversial social issues including transgender bathroom use and gun rights, which have been frequent topics of debate in recent legislative sessions.
…Inviting certain other legislators to participate, Johnson said, might have caused the event to veer into a discussion of those social issues and taken the focus off the intended topics [Tupper, 2017.09.12].
Rep. Johnson breaches protocol here, suggesting that only he and his chosen GOP friends are capable of staying on topic and that other duly elected representatives of the people are incapable of sticking to a meeting agenda. I hate to cite Rep. Lynne DiSanto as a credible source, but she seems to get the elitist slight:
“I would say I think the concept of having a cracker barrel specifically related to ideas around business and economic development is a fantastic idea,” DiSanto said. “And I believe that if it would’ve been presented to us that way, everybody would’ve been respectful of keeping it within those parameters.”
DiSanto said it was wrong for seven legislators to host a meeting similar to a cracker barrel while excluding other legislators and the general public [Tupper, 2017.09.12].
Johnson’s secret meeting was disrespectful to fellow legislators and, more importantly, to the public at large and representative democracy. No more star chambers, Rep. Johnson—if you think your party and your voters need to spend less time discussing guns, gays, and God and more time discussing community and economic development, don’t hide the latter conversations. Hold them in public, invite everyone, and model in the spotlight the kind of discussion of bread-and-butter policy issues of which you think we need more.