Like any good joke, timing is everything.
House Speaker David Gowan demonstrated peculiar timing this week.
Days after affirming that representatives can carry concealed weapons while the House does its work, he banned reporters from the House floor unless they consented to an ill-defined and arbitrary criminal background check. Gowan said his action was necessary to ensure the security of potentially armed members from people who carry pens and laptops.
So that’s the punchline? Gowan believes the pen is mightier than the sword?
No one can believe that the members of the Capitol press corps pose any threat to legislators’ security. If you have any doubts, turn on KAET’s Arizona Horizon on any Friday during the session, when Capitol reporters talk about the week’s news. They’re policy wonks, not gangsters.
The only “threat” capitol reporters pose is in digging up news Gowan and his cohorts prefer to keep secret: large amounts of money spent on remodeling while the state was cutting key services; a plan to install showers and a “multipurpose room” in the House basement; and, most recently, the Arizona Capitol Times’ expose of Gowan’s use of state vehicles to travel across the 1st Congressional District, where he is a candidate. He paid back $12,000 for inappropriate travel expenses.
That story was reported by Hank Stephenson, who has a minor blemish on his record for trespassing. That misdemeanor, under Gowan’s rules, would be enough to keep him from ever stepping on the House floor.
It is hard to believe this is coincidental.
For decades, reporters have had access to the House floor with absolutely no incident. They just do their job, providing the public an eye to the proceedings of their elected representatives — for good or for ill.
Reporters don’t expect to be popular. Nor should they be punished for asking tough questions. Legislators should not be able to pick and choose who writes their stories. They should not try to silence journalists by making an example of those who do stellar work. The public can’t let Gowan have the last laugh.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Valley of the Sun chapter urges Gowan to rescind this arbitrary and unnecessary change in journalists’ access to the House floor. Reporters pose no security threat — unless truth hurts.
Amanda Ventura is president of the Valley of the Sun chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the chapter’s Twitter feed at @spjphx.