Idaho’s House and Senate minority caucuses have voted to close their meetings to the public, after having them open to the public for nearly a decade while GOP caucuses remained closed. “This change is effective immediately,” according to a press release from Democratic leadership. “If Coach Pete had opened his playbook to TCU before the Fiesta Bowl, the fake punt would have led to disaster, not victory,” said Senate Assistant Minority Leader Elliot Werk. Added House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, “To maximize our effectiveness in the legislature we must take the field with every advantage that we can muster.”
In 2003, the annual BSU Public Policy Survey, a respected statewide poll, found that 76 percent of Idahoans thought the caucuses should be open, and only 8 percent thought they should remain closed. Under pressure from media groups and others, the House Minority Caucus opened its meetings to the public in 2001, and the Senate Democratic Caucus opened up in 2002. The majority caucuses in both houses opted to remain closed, but in 2003 House Republicans adopted a new caucus policy limiting what their caucus can do in closed-door meetings, saying closed sessions will be held only to develop party political policy or to elect party leaders, promising that no legislation will be drafted in closed-door caucuses, and saying that “discussion of any public policy issue, including legislation, shall be for educational and informational purposes only.”
Caucuses are meetings of each party’s members in the House or Senate. Though the state Constitution requires all the business of the Legislature to be conducted in public, party caucus meetings traditionally have been closed. That’s aroused increasing controversy over the past decade, as the Republican caucus took in such a large majority that it nearly constituted the entire Legislature. In 2001, a major package of tax-cut legislation was crafted in extended closed-door meetings of the Senate Republican Caucus, which at that time held all but three of the seats in the Senate.