The camera came on and an Iowa legislative subcommittee chairman shut discussion down. Then Rep. Erik Helland, R-Johnston, inexplicably blamed the camera.
Helland last week abruptly shut down a meeting on House Study Bill 219, an outrageous measure that would eliminate any state permitting for guns. Iowa on Jan. 1 relaxed concealed carry permit regulations, leading to a virtual explosion in permits. We've not heard any groundswell to completely eliminate permitting. Yet Helland seemed ready to advance discussion of dropping permits entirely, until a Democratic staffer began capturing debate on a Flip video camera. Helland quickly stopped discussion and offered the strangest excuse we've ever heard: "I'm not going to have the subcommittee become campaign fodder."
We believe substantive public discussions on public issues by publicly elected leaders in a public building should be the very foundation of "campaign fodder."
If Helland was prepared to raise the issue in subcommittee, Iowa voters needed to hear what he and his subcommittee members had to say about it.
How else should voters assess lawmakers? By what they privately discuss among themselves?
Awkwardly, an inadvertent recording of Helland the next day seems to affirm it.
The next day, Helland and House GOP leadership were discussing bill strategy on the House floor. Huddling around the House Speaker's desk, the group of lawmakers complained about another GOP lawmaker's inaction on the gun bill. The House Speaker's nearby desk microphone captured the entire discussion, including Helland's exasperation: "You know what that means? It means I'm going to end up stuck with the bill. ... I'm the dirty hatchet man for the caucus. Something nobody wants to do. Some dirty, nasty job. ..."
The inference is that GOP leadership isn't at all supportive of the bill. If there was any doubt, here's how another GOP House leader characterized the bill in that public discussion caught on the speaker's mic: "The crazy, give-a-handgun-to-a-schizophrenic bill."
Speaker pro tem Jeff Kaufmann, R-Wilton, later apologized for callously linking a mental health diagnosis to crime.
His glib characterization likely killed the bill.
We don't regret it. Iowa's not ready for making handguns as accessible as groceries.
But we do flinch when a House leader stops public discussion of a bill because recorded excerpts might be heard by - of all people - the public.
And we flinch harder when publicly recorded mutterings in a public chamber seem to explain why.