Republican state representatives got busted yesterday for holding an illegal, secret meeting. John Adams of the Tribune broke the story after he and Shane Castle of the Helena Vigilante were tipped off about it. It happened in the basement of a Helena hotel. State law requires that all such meetings to be conducted openly, and that the public receive advance notice. These rules form the most important set of laws in Montana, the public access or “right to know” laws, enshrined in the Constitution and the Montana Code, requiring that Government be conducted in the open.
At this meeting, a questionnaire [pdf] was handed out to all of attendees, asking those in attendance to state their position on some hot-button issues such as whether they agree with the TEA Party proposal to annex federal lands away from the U.S. Government.
Republicans furiously to tried to claim to the reporters who crashed the meeting that it was not technically a caucus meeting. But the questionnaire was labeled:
…and thus it was illegal.
Keith Regier, the newly elected house majority leader, distributed this questionnaire to fellow house members and ran the meeting. It ended not long after the reporters showed up.
Not a good start for House Republicans, with the legislative session still a month and a half away. And the last thing on earth that the GOP wants is for every member to have to put in writing whether they support or oppose various TEA Party schemes.
Perhaps the questionnaires were to be used as a kind of conservative purity test. Such loyalty oaths, alliance tests, and party purges have often surfaced among Montana Republicans, who are somewhat obsessed with such things.
Or, given that the survey asked about what they call the “TPL” proposal (transfer of public lands) perhaps Republicans want to determine if they have the votes to do pull it off. Previously, GOP moderates tried to distance themselves from this stupid and childish idea, especially after the idea got a nearly unanimous endorsement at the recent GOP platform convention. Moderates backpedalled when it was revealed the transfer would increase our taxes by hundreds of millions, and inflict a major blow to Montana’s tourism economy.
Other questions on the survey included how much money they would like to leave unallocated at the end of the session and what “the priority should be” with regard to the ending fund balance. Each legislator was also asked to try to identify his (or her, but they are mostly men) top priority bill, and what their “thoughts were” about some of Governor Bullock’s priorities which Regier listed, such as the CSKT water compact, Medicaid expansion, campaign dark money, and preschool.
And here’s an interesting question: are the completed questionnaires (presumably some have already been collected by Regier and stashed by him somewhere) public documents, by law, which the press and citizens have a right to view? I sure hope so :)