National Sunshine Week is a great reason to celebrate something Americans could learn about government from the mother country. When President Barack Obama debated Republican legislators earlier this month about expanding government control over health care, it evoked the centuries-old British tradition of “Prime Minister’s Question Time.” Although Obama’s several-hours-long experiment was not exactly scintillating television—even for CSPAN—there is every reason to believe importing “question time” could spark a new level of transparency in American government.
Since 1961, question time has been formalized into what amounts to a 30-minute weekly debate between the prime minister and parliament. Unlike scripted American press conferences and political debates, there is nowhere for either branch to hide behind sound bites in this weekly test of intellect, persuasion, and command over public policy. Question time unavoidably brings transparency on a weekly basis to Britain’s own version of “checks and balances.”
Question time could bring transparency to state government too. A constitutional amendment proposed by former State Senator Jonathan Paton would require Arizona governors to participate in bi-weekly debates on the floor of the state Legislature. If SCR1012 passes, Arizonans will have a chance to hear directly from the Governor and their elected officials, bringing a new level of accountability to Arizona politics.
Nick Dranias holds the Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan Chair for Constitutional Government and is Director of the Joseph and Dorothy Donnelly Moller Center for Constitutional Government at the Goldwater Institute.
Arizona Legislature: SCR1012
Prime Minister's Office: What are Prime Minister’s Questions?
The Daily Beast: Mark McKinnon on why "question time" should be a regular feature