House Republicans opt for closed-door meeting

In an apparent shift in policy, the House Republican caucus held a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, reports The Tennessean. Members indicated they are considering the possibility of excluding the media from future meetings, citing the need for a “family” discussion among members.

The meeting, which took place in Legislative Plaza, was largely focused on the state’s budget surplus, said House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville.

But prior to the open discussion among lawmakers, Williams asked The Tennessean — the only member of the media present for the meeting — to leave the room. The move is a departure from the past and is out of step with Senate Republicans, who have historically held open meetings.

At the beginning of the meeting, Williams alluded to the move, saying he wanted the caucus to be able to have an open discussion, which he likened to a family discussing personal matters. After the meeting, which was the first with Williams presiding over, he defended the move, saying it was necessary to build trust within the caucus.

“When I have members of this caucus who stand up on the House floor and demean other members of this caucus — other family members — then we have a problem. We really need to communicate as a family,” he said. “This is really the only way that kind of fosters that growth and development as a team.”

Williams said the majority of the House Republican caucus wants to be able to ask questions, similar to what occurs in an educational environment and not be judged for not knowing something. Lawmakers frequently pose questions of various officials in open meetings during the legislative session, as does Gov. Bill Haslam, who asked different agency heads about a variety of topics during his recently concluded budget hearings.

Williams also said he thinks there are times when House Republican caucus will want to have the media present during its meetings. “But there are also times, where like at my house and my family, I’m not inviting the press to Thanksgiving dinner.”

Calling legislative work a “sausage-making process,” Williams said the closed-door meetings don’t have as much to do with the media as “creating an environment” that would allow it to be more successful.

“We’re trying to create an environment that fosters dialogue and communication so that whenever we do get on the House floor or when we do have a caucus meeting or when we do go back to our districts and communicate what’s going on, that our citizens know that we have thoroughly vetted every idea and not just sit in a corner and done what we thought to be the only path at that time.”

 

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