Majority Leader Norris Op-ed: ‘Closed-door’ legislature is a Fabrication

Original Article from ‘The Commercial Appeal’: here

I was troubled by last week’s guest column, “Legislators do too much work in private,” by state Sen. Jim Kyle.

The message subtitled on the piece, “Growing trend of closed-door meetings in the Tennessee legislature favors special interests over the public interest,” could not be further from the truth.

Reading between the lines, the minority leader indicts the practices of his own caucus. By his own admission, during more than a century of one-party rule by Democrats in Nashville, “the debate in caucus meetings proved to be the debate on the legislation.”

By fabricating the notion that Republicans must meet in secret and distribute talking points the way Democrats used to, he attempts to rationalize the same call for openness in government that he has historically resisted.

Just because Democrats apparently did business behind closed doors does not mean that Republicans have perpetuated the practice now that the majority has shifted. We typically announce our caucus meetings in advance. I recall the press attending some of them since 2008 — the year the minority leader says everything changed.

The change he truly laments is that Democrats are no longer in charge. He implies that something untoward must be going on behind closed doors because he can no longer advance an agenda that the majority of Tennesseans no longer embrace.

On the contrary, the bulk of our work is done in the standing committees of the Senate. Committee meetings are not only open to the public, but are now video-streamed and even archived on the new legislative website launched by Republicans ( We even won the “Online Democracy Award” for the open government changes implemented since 2008.

Witness the 2008 public hearings and caucus meetings held throughout the interview and selection process for electing the secretary of State, comptroller and treasurer for the first time in Tennessee history.

In short, there are often lively debates and disagreements in public Senate committee meetings. In fact, the minority leader too frequently complains when we take whatever time is necessary to parse important issues in committee. His impatience, if not intransigence, is well known, and he is often the first to “call the question” in an effort to
stifle debate.

He is critical of the media for not providing better coverage. I cannot disagree. Ever read about the minority leader’s failed attempt to slip public funding for a baseball franchise into this year’s budget?

Ever read about the forced apology in committee the night the budget was re-referred to the Finance Committee to ferret out the misrepresentation on the Senate floor?

Better yet, have you learned about recent Finance Committee meetings revealing that the Bredesen administration has been unable to close the state’s books or even audit them for more than a year?

Within the past few weeks alone, another committee was told by the state comptroller that, for having failed to do so, the state is not in compliance with the law. Just last week, it was also revealed that the state’s insurance reserve fund has inadvertently been overdrawn by administration officials by $45 million due to an error that could have been avoided had the books been properly closed.

Don’t be surprised when a supplemental appropriations request to cover the overdraft hits the next January.

The minority leader doesn’t write about reality. Perhaps he is simply frustrated that, relegated to minority status, it is increasingly difficult to get others to “take the bait” he so frequently throws.

It is hard enough to serve in the minority without deluding oneself that, but for a shortage of Democrats, his perspective might be more relevant. Fabrication does nothing to advance his cause.

Mark Norris of Collierville is the state Senate Republican leader.

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