Rep. Mike Dudgeon: Transparency In the Age of Technology

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Anyone who knows me personally knows how much I adore convenience providing technology, individuals who speak their mind, and processes that afford ample transparency.  I believe that those who can be informed can also engage, and the more folks are engaged are the more who can bring about sustainable methods of solutions to the challenges of our time.  I do not believe that elected oficials are inherently corrupt, but do recognize that it takes some serious courage and vision to alter a pre-existing system.  With this perspective, my compliments to legislators do not come easily nor is my respect earned without merit.  The Georgia General Assembly has been my playground and profession for the last twelve years.  I cut my teeth with the House Hawk system (to which Congressman Tom Graves belonged) and I have mourned the loss of a number of men and women who contributed not simply to their district, but to greatness of the state as a whole.

Last week I was sad to hear of the decision of Representative Mike Dudgeon to not seek re-election.   The image to the right was the image accompanying his Facebook post notifying the public he would not be seeking re-election.  I am particularly sad about this because of his contribution to a more open and transparent bill comparison system.  In a General Assembly in which the Senate still does not provide live streamed meetings, (and as of last week) I was told by Senate Gallery Doorkeepers photographs were no longer allowed in the Senate gallery, Representative Dudgeon stood in direct contrast.  He is no rabble rouser, but simply admires limited scope of government and does not hide behind some archaic idea that technology is something to be feared.  In contrast to the same photo-prohibiting ladies that explained I could use my cell phone for “business” not for “playing” while in the gallery, Representative Dudgeon and many House members actively have dialogue with their constituents via social media.

Thanks be to God for the House chamber, and specifically for Representative Dudgeon.  For those who are unaware, Representative Dudgeon graduated Georgia Tech with a degree in Electrical Engineering and currently holds five patents.  During his years in the Georgia General Assembly, Rep. Dudgeon also took time out of his full-time job in the tech sector and his service as a member to develop an inter-office software program that analyzes the different versions of bills as they go through the legislative process. 

Here’s where is gets wonky, so skip down a paragraph if you are not into political nerdom/ jargon.

When a bill is introduced into the hopper, it comes in two copies, referred to collectively as the “blue copy”, in reference to the backing of the bill where the legislators place their original signature.  The bill has a number in the top right hand corner, referred to as the “LC number”.  “LC” stands for Legislative Counsel, and the number is directly related to the Legislative Counsel staff member who drafted the original bill and who then makes any subsequent changes in text of the bill.  After it is recorded with sponsor names in the hopper, this bill is passed from committee to committee, and should never technically leave staff hands.  The copies of the bill that are placed into committee folders for committee review and open meetings are made from this blue copy.  Any changes to the bill results in a different LC number at the top of the page.  This number is of utmost importance, because late in the session and/or late in the evening on the chamber floors, when legislators do not take the time for proper readings of bills, it has previously been the only way to identify a bill’s change, even if it was only punctuation.

Until Representative Dudgeon.

Representative Dudgeon created a software that would digitally highlight in bright yellow the changes in LC numbered versions, in order to make the bills more easily comparable to the naked eye.  To have a visual, think of what the combined appearance of track changes and highlighting looks like in Microsoft Word.  House members have been using this for years, and yours truly would give her left arm for access to it.  Alas, leadership in both chambers will not allow it.

Nonetheless, I am truly grateful for this.  After so many years of legislators who lack the interest and vision (if not enjoy hiding behind smoke and mirrors), it has been members like Representative Dudgeon who have given me hope for a more engaged and connected legislative body.  It had been my hope that this software could be not only adopted for widespread use in the Capitol, but also a resource that could be shared with the public, to make bill changes more easily understood.

Alas, that is not to be- yet.

It is my belief that Representative Dudgeon marks an inevitable turning of the transparency page, albeit glacially slow.  With more members using twitter, periscope, and having dialogue with their constituents, the more the veil will be lifted and the ability for even the Senate Doorkeepers to hamper engaged citizens will reduce.

Whatever challenge Representative Dudgeon may take on next, I am certain it will be met with a practical and solution oriented mind that will contribute not only to making the challenge more easy to resolve for him- but probably more easy to resolve for others as well.  May his actions inspire others in the Georgia General Assembly.  Godspeed.

 

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