Public needs accessible elected officials

Published 7:15 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2011

An elected official has to deal with myriad issues. It seems one of the central issues must exist in the realm of public access.

Many times I’ve eaten in local restaurants and watched as people walked over to the table of one of our state representatives, for example, to speak, then talk about a measure important to him or her. The exchange ends. Both went back to what they were doing before the conversation.

Most people feel like the elected official represents them. They have access. That’s the way of the world.

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Earlier this week over in Montgomery, House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said they want to close doors to the legislative hallways on the fifth and seventh floors of the Capitol on meeting days.

Those who would seek an audience with their representative or senator would have to make an appointment. No more dropping in. No more of “I was in the neighborhood and this is my grandson, who wants to see how government works.”

The media have quoted Hubbard talking about the Jan. 8 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., outside a Tucson Safeway. Six were killed and 13 were wounded.

Oh, and Hubbard also said, “… so our members don’t have to worry about being harassed.”

Harassed? Is that what elected officials call it when someone walks into their office and asks that lawmaker to support a measure or not?

Hubbard continued his argument for closure by saying a House member “was actually barricaded in their office and (was) intimidated to force them to vote in a certain way.”

Oh, please. If a legislator feels threatened, he or she may pick up the telephone and call Capitol security. That’s security’s purpose.

Remember history. In September 1935, Dr. Carl Weiss waited at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge, trying to speak to U.S. Sen. Huey Long about a redistricting bill that would have ousted his father-in-law, Judge Henry Pavey, from the bench. Weiss had tried to see Long twice to talk to him and was told to make appointments by Long and his bodyguards. On the third attempt, Weiss fired a handgun at Long from a distance. Long died two days later. Weiss died in a corridor of the Capitol from 62 gunshot wounds.

Keep the halls open. Deal with public access rationally.