The Closet the Media is Assigned to
Reporter on the Floor
Lobbyist in the Balcony
"Back Benchers" share a light moment in the back row of the balcony where the media now must be escorted to enter
Access to the statehouse and to lawmakers is an issue this session. Normally the House floor might welcome a line of print reporters, photographers and TV cameras. Writers would sit in a neighboring legislator’s chair while asking questions in the afternoon or early morning. This year new signs are appearing on doorways to the floor limiting access to the upper and lower house not just for lobbyists but for the media as well.
While i admit I didn’t want to have lobbyists filing in unannounced or TV cameras set up to surprise me when something was breaking and I had no time to think, I am concerned we have now restricted access to legislators generally. We operate in a tight space where, since all but a leadership and committee chairs have no desk or office but the spot we chose on the floor, we have little alternative but to spend most our time behind what are now closed doors.
It is enough of a problem that Republican Caucuses are closed to the media and public. Democratic Caucuses are and always have been open, but now the media is hard pressed to find us when they have questions since they can not even see the balcony seats from a window to know when we are there.
Access by lobbyists concerns me less since nearly all green tagged and registered lobbyists are paid and spend the whole day in the statehouse where they have far more access to us than the public.Reporters on the other hand often operate on deadline and are frequently the only access that people in some parts of the state will have to the law makers who represent them.
While it might not be pleasant to be surprised by a bank of TV cameras, it is our obligation to respond when we are held accountable for a vote or asked to react to an event that our constituents’ lives are affected by. I know no reporter who will not respect a request to give us a minute to collect or thoughts, find more information or otherwise prepare before we respond.
It is curious to me that the issue of media access first came up on the balcony where I have noted that all the freshmen lawmakers sit. Kren, Crane, Bowers and Thane are all in the back row far from leadership and the Republican Party’s media handler. I imagine that to have an entire row freshmen legislators unsupervised and unspun far from watchful eyes might make some in the party nervous. That row has established itself as a jovial entity: "The Back benchers." They hung a banner on the back wall of the house chambers over their heads this week until the speaker asked them to take it down.