By Tim Peacock
A firestorm appears to be brewing in North Carolina this week after state Senator Tommy Tucker (R-Union County) uttered thirteen now-infamous words to a North Carolina newspaper publisher:
“I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”
The story of what lead up to these fateful remarks begins in the North Carolina legislature. Tucker (and several other conservatives) just pushed an egregious piece of legislation through the State and Local Government committee that would place severe limits on government transparency. According to the Charlotte Observer
, “The legislation, Senate Bill 287, would allow certain local governments to stop notifying the public about crucial government activities in the local newspaper. The governments could instead just post legal notices in the bowels of their websites, where few people are likely to see them.”
Throughout most of our national history, requiring the government to notify citizens of major changes to zoning, projects, etc. has been a common sense measure to add checks and balances to government. The mere notion that a government official would attempt to halt this measure – to reduce the methods and ease in which it’s citizens can obtain vital information – is shameful.
The Observer continued, “A check of 20 N.C. cities in 2011 found that the local newspaper’s website attracted audiences 65 times larger than the local municipal website. In Charlotte, the Observer’s website attracted an audience 16 times bigger than the Charlotte-Mecklenburg government site. That’s not an insult to the government websites. But it is a reminder that newspapers and their websites are in the mass communication business; municipal governments are not.”
In explaining why they are attempting to pass the measure, legislators like Tucker are arguing that it will save taxpayers money by reducing the methods government notifies them. Of course, the pennies on the dollar they pay local papers to post these notices will more than likely be eaten up by the web designers technicians needed to ensure everything on their on websites and publications are up to date. Those opposed to bill agree. According to Sen. Thom Goolsby (R-Wilmington)
, “Whenever officials and bureaucrats line up to tell you that they want to save you money by obscuring their activities, you should be wary.”
The committee passed the measure by voice vote. Bussian, the press association lobbyist, said the committee voted 6-5 to reject the measure. Tucker, the chair, rejected a subsequent appeal for a show of hands and declared the meeting adjourned.
At that point, Hal Tanner, publisher of the Goldsboro News-Argus, approached Tucker. He told him he thought the vote was handled in a manner inconsistent with Republican stands for open government.
“I said, ‘We just got through dealing with Jim Black,’ ” Tanner later recalled, referring to the former Democratic House speaker jailed on corruption charges.
“I’m not Jim Black, I’m not Jim Black,” an angry Tucker replied. Senate rules prohibit roll call votes in committee.
Later, in an email to members, the press association quoted Tucker telling Tanner: “I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.” [emphasis mine]
It seems that Tucker – besides having a temper and a problem with government transparency – also has an issue following simple rules of order in conducting congressional business. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that he had to repeatedly verbally disassociate himself from another legislator convicted on corruption charges. That’s just speculation though. It does make you wonder why a politician would go to such great lengths to keep his constituents in the dark though, doesn’t it?
If you’d like to let Tucker know transparency is vital to effective government, you can contact him through his Facebook page, via his office phone at (919) 733-7659, or via email at Tommy.Tucker@ncleg.net.