Road Trippin’ With the Rhode Island Statehouse

Here’s an interesting idea proposed by Rhode Island House Speaker William Murphy in his opening address to the 2007 legislative session…

Transparent process, open inquiry, public debate. That is what marked this body’s earliest beginnings, and let me close by sharing a plan for restoring that reputation to the House of Representatives as it exists today.
The fact is, for many Rhode Islanders, the State House can be perceived as an intimidating or inaccessible place and its workings can seem confusing.
To ensure that we are bringing as many voices as possible into government, and creating a legacy of openness, transparency, and responsiveness, I am announcing today an initiative to break down the barriers for every-day Rhode Islanders to make their voices heard, participate in government debate, and better understand what we do.
We call it “Project Open House.”
Through “Project Open House,” every standing committee of the House of Representatives will hold a hearing at a site around the state during their normal course of legislative business.
The bills before the committee will be posted in advance, as they are now, and citizens with interest or concerns will be encouraged to come testify, or simply listen and learn.
“Project Open House” will turn community centers, libraries and public schools into mini State Houses for the day. I look forward to officially opening the first hearing next month, and to making these field hearings an important part of the House of Representatives’ next chapter.
Though Project Open House is mostly symbolic in nature, it does represent a step in the right direction. A more far reaching step, however, would be to have House committees post their minutes, especially amendments to bills and vote tallies, in a publicly available electronic format.
The staff people at the Rhode Island General Assembly already do an excellent job of providing timely, online information about floor actions. It shouldn’t be difficult to extend the systems and processes they’ve already developed to include committee activity too.

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17 years ago

From a purely political perspective, you have to hand it to Murphy. He entered the speaker’s office as John Harwood’s hand-picked successor but then seemed doomed to be overthrown.
Despite attempts by Harwood to control the Assembly from behind the scenes, Murphy was able to distance himself from Harwood and then overcome a tough challenge from Harwood supporters who had aligned with the GOP minority. He dealt with dissatisfied members of the split GOP House caucus to preserve his position as speaker when it seemed he was all but done.
He later was able to unite a divided House and created a “big tent” even keeping the door open for a Republican who was on the outs with the minority leadership to become a Democrat.
Now he’s embarking on this Open House thing, apparently realizing that one of the things that led to Harwood’s problems was his inaccessibilty and closed door way of governing.
One of his biggest headaches, the casino issue, was removed after it was shot down by the voters.
In many ways, this hurts Carcieri as he now has to deal with a Speaker who has increased his power, but from a purely political perspective, you have to give Murphy some credit.
Six months after he became speaker, he looked less like a lame duck and more like a dead duck. Now he’s got more power than ever before. I just wonder if it’s a matter of time before his new power brings with it the hubris that has brought down virtually every other speaker before Murphy.

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