Particularly in the House, “hawks” circled to assure the outcome if even a Republican was brave enough to dissent.
The Rome News-Tribune
June 21, 2006
THOSE WHO hoped Republicans were merely “feeling their oats” in clamping down on debate, discourse and discussion when they achieved control of the General Assembly may want to start losing hope.
Legislatures are supposed to be debating societies where ideas are argued — and may the best one win. They’re not intended to be rubber stamps doing little other than OK’ing whatever some party’s leadership decides to do.
In this year’s General Assembly session, citizens saw their elected representatives — especially if not members of the dominant party — regularly silenced. Particularly in the House, “hawks” circled to assure the outcome if even a Republican was brave enough to dissent. Bills were regularly blocked from the consideration of amendments. Opponents were refused recognition, and thus could not speak, or were cut off in mid-argument.
After more than a century of being relegated to the back benches it might be understandable that Republicans would be inclined to flex their muscles and engage in “pay back” — although, come to think of it, they themselves were never treated quite this severely when Democrats held sway.
CERTAINLY, the assumption would be that after one session in which they “delivered the message” that Republicans might allow the people’s representatives, all of them, to get a word or two in. After all, unlike in the national Congress, there is no such thing as a filibuster possible in the state legislature.
Alas, worse things may now be in the offing.
House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, has revealed that he has ordered a “kill switch” installed at the chamber’s podium, giving as his reasons that this would be in the interest of common courtesy and maintaining a sense of decorum. It will allow Richardson to, in effect, push a button and silence, by cutting off the microphone sound, anyone who is saying anything that he finds offensive.
“I will use that sparingly,” Richardson promised. “I hope I never have to use it.” Specifically cited was the instance where Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, held the floor and started singing a civil-rights anthem in opposition to the photo ID measure for voters.
DEMOCRATS, needless to say, are suspicious as to the purity of Richardson’s motives. So should citizens be, as at minimum it sets a troubling precedent. Will Republicans next demand advance copies of anything a representative of the people plans to say?
“I don’t believe he is going to use the kill switch just when someone speaks too long,” said Rep. Tom Bordeaux, D-Savannah. “I fear he is going to use it when things that he and his administration don’t want to hear start being said.”
That is indeed the fear. “Hawks” were used sparingly during the session — but they were used. “Engrossing” bills so they could not be changed wasn’t common (and seemingly limited to the most controversial topics) but it did happen.
Just as with the procedure of the local County Commission, where “advance notice” of a citizen wanting to speak (and about what) is required else that taxpayer will not be recognized, has been an annoyance to many, such restrictions fly in the face of “free speech.” Cutting someone off who is spouting obscenities or such might be understandable, but gagging them because they don’t agree with what is proposed?
THAT MAY BE a great way to run a railroad but it is a poor way to run a republic. The distance between gagging dissenters and strangling representative government is a small one.