June 18th, 2007
Not so over the Hill …
By Christine Tatum
Random thoughts from last week’s whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C.:
- Your correspondence really does matter. As I zipped in and out of the offices of more than a dozen members of Congress, I heard one thing over and over: they want to know what you, their constituents, think. Please call, write or send e-mail (and have your family and friends do the same).
Wondering what to say? Please tell your representatives that you support HR 2102 — also known as the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 — which would create a federal media shield law. And please tell your senators that you support SB 849 — also known as the OPEN Government of 2007 — which would reform the federal Freedom of Information Act substantially.
- Many senators dislike the practice of secret holds. Consider asking your senator to work to put a stop to this dastardly practice. Some officials are still quietly cheering SPJ for unmasking Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who has used one of these back-door parliamentary tricks to stall SB 849, reform of the federal Freedom of Information Act. In the words of one senator’s staffer, “I’m a big fan of SPJ for doing that. Good, good work.” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) called the pratice of placing secret holds “pernicious” and a “perversion” of what the founding fathers intended.
- Lean hard on Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — especially McConnell. Reid, the Senate majority leader, has the ability to bring SB 849 to the floor for a vote. His staff says he has sent to McConnell, the Senate’s minority leader, a “time commitment” — meaning that Reid essentially has asked McConnell to encourage Kyl to remove his hold on the bill so that Reid can go ahead and take this important proposal to the Senate floor for a vote. So far, McConnell hasn’t bothered to respond to Reid’s request.
A couple of things you should know about McConnell — particularly if you live in Kentucky: At least three people have indicated an interest in taking on McConnell, who is up for re-eletion next year. Might be interesting to ask them how they feel about FOIA reform and the public’s right to public information.
(Side note: for what it’s worth, SPJ member John Yarmuth, a Democrat representing Kentucky’s 3rd House District co-sponsored the House’s version of the FOIA reform bill … He clearly gets the importance of this legislation.)
Don’t let Reid off the hook, either. Given his Senate post, he could override all of this silliness to bring this bill to the floor. The procedures he’d have to follow would be more time-consuming — but if McConnell and Kyl aren’t going to play ball, Reid needs to step up to the plate anyway.
- If you’re going to SPJ’s national conference, coming up Oct. 4-7 in D.C., consider visiting with your elected officials. If you’re wondering what issues — other than SB 849 and HR 1202 would — would be smart to raise, feel free to drop me a line. And if you’re planning a trip to D.C. with your kids, consider making an appointment to see your elected official — or at least his or her office (As Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) told me, “It’s your office, not mine.”). I was impressed by the amount of time otherwise VERY busy legislators spent warmly greeting children from their home states. I saw lots of smiling young faces, proud handshakes and pictures taken in front of American flags. The young ones appeared to love their interactive civics lessons.
- I’m not rendered speechless very often … but Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) managed to catch me by surprise as I entered his office. “I’m signing on to that bill of yours,” he said in reference to a proposed media shield law. I’ll be writing about his commitment in an upcoming column for The Denver Post.
- The Hill is filled with interesting decor. OK, so I get into furnishings … Let’s just say that one could learn a lot about jazz by visiting Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and about the entire Tar Heel state by visiting Rep. Howard Coble (R-N.C.)
- SPJ’s general counsel, Baker & Hostetler in Washington, D.C. has worked hard and effectively to ensure SPJ’s voice has been heard on Capitol Hill. For that, the firm has my profound thanks.