Election impact on open government

The 2010 mid-term election brings Republicans to power in the House and many new faces to Capitol Hill.  Are there champions of open government in the bunch?   Did transparency advocates win or lose in the election?

In the House, former newspaper publisher John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) survived the Republican wave.  In the current Congress that’s winding up its business, he sits on the influential Budget and Ways & Means committees.  He could be an important ally as OGIS seeks additional funding in a tight budget year next year.

With experienced hands leaving office, Congress lost significant institutional memory, and incoming leaders may be less familiar with the details of FOIA’s exemptions.   The defeated included incumbent David Oberstar (D-Minn.), who has served 18 terms in the House and serves as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  Also defeated was 17-term incumbent Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), who heads the Armed Services Committee.  Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) also will not be back.  New leadership in committees means whoever succeeds these experienced members in the chairman position will likely have less familiarity with open government laws, such as FOIA, and we may see more FOIA exemptions discussed in congressional committees next year.

Rick Boucher also succumbed to the Republican fervor.  Boucher was a prime force behind media shield legislation.  His successor, Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) may be an ally of transparency, however:  In the Virginia state General Assembly, Griffith served as vice chair of the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council, which advises the commonwealth’s legislature on open government matters and enjoys a good reputation among transparency advocates as a model state-level freedom-of-information ombudsman.

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