Some lawmakers let a little sunshine in
By BILL ADAIR
Published February 9, 2007
WASHINGTON - At 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sen. Jon Tester met with leaders of the Dry Pea and Lentil Council.
We know this because Tester, a freshman Democrat from Montana, posts his daily schedule on his Web site, listing everything from "desk time" to his workouts in the Senate gym.
Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., does the same thing. Her schedule isn't as detailed as Tester's, but she lists her meetings with labor union officials, her committee hearings and her breakfast with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Tester and Gillibrand are bringing a little sunshine to the U.S. Capitol, a place that prefers to operate in the dark. The lawmakers - both freshmen - say their constituents have a right to know what they are doing.
Are Floridians in Congress willing to follow their lead?
I polled members of the Tampa Bay delegation and got a wide range of reactions. Most like the idea. But one doesn't want to post her schedule for "security reasons."
Sen. Bill Nelson liked the idea so much that he posted his less than a day after I asked. His first calendar was not as complete as Tester's, but he plans to post them at the start of each day rather than afterward, as Tester does.
"My life is an open book," said Nelson, a Democrat.
His Senate colleague, Republican Mel Martinez, was not available for comment because he was at a funeral.
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, liked the idea and will begin posting her schedule soon. "I've always been in favor of openness," she said.
Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, posted his schedule several years ago and is willing to do so again. "Most of what we do up here is public," he said, and quickly fired off a Blackberry message to his chief of staff directing him to start posting it.
Other Republicans in the Tampa Bay delegation were not so enthusiastic.
Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, called it "just one more added level of bureaucracy that I don't need in a busy day."
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, is opposed because of personal safety. She said she did not want to give locations of her meetings for fear that she could be a victim of a stalker.
"I'm not against sunshine, I'm for safety," said Brown-Waite. "You need to be very careful when you're in the public eye."
Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, raised the same concerns until I explained that Tester and Gillibrand posted their schedules at the end of the day, after the meetings have been held. Bilirakis said he would consider the idea.
It's encouraging to see most of the delegation embracing Florida-like sunshine in the nation's capital. The schedules will help us know how hard they are working and what voices they are hearing. Which lobbyists are they seeing? Are they hearing from both sides of an issue?
Like so many things in Washington, the key is in the details. If they publish only sketchy calendars or withhold some meetings, we won't learn much. But if they follow through with their pledges and give us a thorough schedule every day, we'll see what they're doing to earn their paychecks.
We don't need to know when they're in the gym. But it's helpful to know when they're meeting with lobbyists for the Dry Pea and Lentil Council.
Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 463-0575.
[Last modified February 9, 2007, 01:13:15]
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