Will politicians go into the virtual world?

— By DAVID A. WILSON

Democrat Staff

A bill overridden by the Missouri State Legislature after a veto by the governor may allow the state to enter a new phase of the digital world.

The Senate, by a vote of 31-3, and the House, by 125-32, overrode Governor Nixon's veto of SB170. The bill now in effect allows members of public bodies to cast votes by videoconference, provided a quorum is physically present.

Missouri becomes the 35th state to adopt a more modern approach to technology.

Yet there has remained one area in which it has not had the impact it possibly should — politics.

Many governmental bodies already use laptop computers to conduct business even though members must be present to vote. It is only a small step to replace an actual meeting room with a virtual conference room.

Perhaps this was behind the concern expressed by Gov. Nixon in his veto message. The Governor said nothing in the new law would prohibit every member of an elected board from attending all meetings via videoconference, according to an article by Bob Watson in the Sept. 15 New Tribune.

The internet is arguably the most widely used communications system in the world. The explosive growth of electronic communication touches nearly everyone in some way. And it has changed just about everything it has touched.

If elected officials used the latest technology for government business, it would change much of the way the governing bodies work.

Possibly the governor was concerned about the legislature and congress being decentralized, with the entire country growing closer to elected officials.

Wouldn't that be a good thing?

If the internet were used, perhaps through a version of Skype, the local office might actually be used by the elected official who has their name embossed on the door. The office could be the actual workplace of the member of Congress. With an internet link to all other members of Congress, each in an office in their home state, the business of the government could easily be carried out without flying across the country to meet physically.

What this really means is that elected officials might conduct business from the home district without ever setting foot in Washington.

The internet makes many things more simple. Research, conferences, Senate and House Hearings and Sessions, Committee Meetings and voting are all possible through videoconferencing. Speeches to the assembled body could be made with little problem.

Bugs need to be worked out, but that is always a factor with anything new. Resources are already available to take care of any problems involved with official business.

So what objection could members of congress have against residing in their home states rather than in the Washington suburbs?

It stands to reason that the constituents could come to have greater influence than the party leadership. It might be difficult to ignore the desires of the people in their district. Some expenses could become hard to justify, such as per diem expenses, leased cars the taxpayers provide and the number of staffers.

Congressional Junkets could eventually be a thing of the past, since face-to-face contact via electronic communications are possible worldwide. Is there any business which could not be done from the home district?

Well, yes. Lobbyists and other special interest representatives might find it inconvenient to traipse all over the country to try to influence votes.

This barely touches on changes in lives of members of Congress performing their duties via electronic digital communication. Even so, it is possible to see increased use of the latest technology as being immensely beneficial to the public.

Voters might have greater access to their elected representatives, minimizing outside pressures.

Since congressional offices in Washington, D.C., might not be used much, the expense of redecorating every two or six years could be eliminated.

Possibly, many government buildings could become surplus property. They could be sold, used for other business, or for those few times officials actually would have to be in Washington, some could be remodeled. Each state could provide small apartments for its particular congresspersons. No condos, since that might encourage more permanent residency.

An added benefit would be that once members of the Senate and House leave office, they wouldn't have the problem of what to do with the expensive homes they own in Maryland and Virginia. Those residences seem to obligate them to stay in the Beltway area after leaving office. The home states could actually benefit from the knowledge and abilities of their former public officials.

This could solve another problem, too. With no travel, no perks, no parties, except for what could be found on the internet, there might be no need to think about term limits.

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