It’s A Wonder Reporters Still Show Up For Assembly At All

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

Assembly Speaker John Perez may have lost his grip on reality. At the very least, he’s behaving as though people actually care what goes on in his house of the legislature.

Assembly members are apparently so important, and their business so significant, that they can’t be interrupted by members of the press. Under a new rule, reporters can’t approach lawmakers on the Assembly floor once the gavel ends a daily session. Instead, reporters will be kept away so lawmakers can leave the chambers, unmolested by questions about the people’s business they just did. (Perez instituted and then backed off a rule change that would have barred interviews of members during floor sessions).

This is bewildering. Let’s leave aside the fundamental principle — that a legislative body should be fully open to the press and their questions – and just consider the press strategy here, and the press context.

Coverage of the legislature and state government is in decline. This is logical – the governing system has limited the discretion of the legislature to the point that our lawmakers are little more than janitors, cleaning up the constitutional messes made by voters. And the journalism business has had a rough go of it for a while. There are fewer reporters everywhere, including in Sacramento.

Which is why restricting coverage of the legislature, and conversation between reporters and members, is just weird. You’d think that Perez and the Assembly would welcome any press member who was strange enough to still care what was going on in the lower chamber. Heck, if I were speaker, I’d start an open bar for journalists and thank them profusely, and maybe send flowers, for bothering to show up and ask a few questions of my members.

Of course, there’s another possibility.

It could be Perez is trying to create interest in the Assembly, and he’s doing that by instituting rules that limit reporters’ access. A good way to get reporters interested in something is to make a show of trying to limit their access to that something. If reporters are restricted, will that create interest in what the Assembly might be hiding? And encourage reporters to show up?

It might be brilliant. But it’s probably just silly.

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