Friday, January 3, 2014

The Return of the Rubin Rule

In the 2013 Kansas legislative session, proponents of the Rubin Rule saw their efforts towards more transparency fall just short in the House.  If you are wondering how your representative voted, well, you aren't going to easily find out because the vote wasn't recorded.  And that is precisely why advocates for the rule say it is needed.

The Rubin Rule, named after Rep. John Rubin who proposed it, would require all votes to be recorded and prevent the bundling of unrelated bills.  Supporters say the rule would provide more transparency and hold elected officials in Kansas accountable.

I support the Rubin Rule because I believe you can never have too much transparency.  However, with increased transparency comes an even greater requirement on the elected representative to communicate with their constituents.  Merely knowing how a person voted on a particular bill may not be enough.  They why also matters.

Nearly every bill of any substance will be complex and likely come with some controversy.  The onus will be on the representative to tell voters why they voted as they did, particularly in cases where they are voting against a bill that seems popular on its surface.

There is also the risk of over relying on transparency that one must account for.  As Kent Anderson wrote in Seeing Beyond Transparency:
"When transparency is overused or used without thought, it can lead to risk-averse behavior. Instead of backroom deals and quiet compromises, leaders or organizations stick to plans that they feel can stand public scrutiny and survive the sunshine of transparency. Unfortunately, part of the world works best in private and outside the view of prying eyes."  
This is not to say that I support the smoke filled backroom deals of the establishment, quite the contrary, but sometimes it isn't necessarily beneficial for some people to see how the proverbial sausage is being made.  Continuing to hide that info is not the answer.  The best way to combat over-reliance on transparency rules is for representatives to keep their constituents informed to the fullest of their ability, something far too few Kansas legislators currently do despite the advent of social media tools like Twitter and Facebook making it enormously easy to do so.

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