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Video Blogging Spurs New Brand of Politics
"This is an issue of importance to hundreds of thousands of Virginians. Why not have a full and fair hearing?" asked Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Last year, House Republican leaders implemented new rules that allow for a bill to be killed in a subcommittee, where formal votes are not usually taken. Democrats tried and failed last week to reverse the rule.
Without recorded subcommittee votes, Democrats said, they fear it will be more difficult to campaign against Republican legislators this fall. Besides a minimum wage increase, Democratic leaders are pushing legislation to fund stem cell research, bolster teacher pay, protect women's access to birth control and expand pre-kindergarten programs.
In response to the rule change, Greg Scanlon, a researcher for the state Democratic Party, has started using a camcorder to film hearings where controversial bills are being heard, such as Thursday's minimum wage deliberations.
House Democrats are taking their cue from last year's state Senate race, when Allen was caught on tape insulting a volunteer for Democratic U.S. Sen. James Webb.
"We saw last election how [video] can be a powerful tool, so now we are helping bring sunshine and openness to the General Assembly," said Mark Bergman, a state Democratic Party spokesman.
GOP leaders warned their colleagues Thursday to be on their best behavior around the camera, which is the size of a small thermos and not always easy to detect.
Griffith said the state Republican Party might hire its own camera person, called a tracker, to film Democrats. The prospect of dueling cameramen will have a chilling effect on the legislative process, he said.
"It's breaking down a little bit," Griffith said. "In the old days, you had that collegiality and you knew all those people and there was a way to short-cut things," he said.
"In the past, you could take a full look at the consequences of a bad bill. But now you have to be careful what you say because of unintended consequences."
But with the consecutive elections of two Democratic governors and Webb's victory last year, Democrats are embracing their role as they head into this fall's elections.
"We got the wind at our backs," said Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington). "We got a message that resonates with the voters, and we are trying to carrying that message."
Despite optimism from Democrats, Republicans note that they still control the General Assembly.
"All they are doing is starting a war," Frederick said.