Introducing Richmond Sunlight.

Merry belated Christmas. I got you this website. Use it to track the every movement of the General Assembly, vote up or down on legislation, comment on bills, and generally figure out what they’re doing down there in Richmond. It’s got RSS feeds, tag clouds, whizzy graphs and crazy Javascript accoutrements.

I’ve been working on this since August, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever finish it. The idea grew out of the Virginia General Assembly RSS feed that I established one year ago. It’s just one of the projects that I had in mind when I announced my blog format change back in August.

I’d like to offer a special thank you to everybody who alpha tested and beta tested this website. Nearly 100 people contributed to the process, and the help provided was tremendous and ultimately proved to be absolutely essential. I truly appreciate your help.

There’s one more announcement. I’m giving this website away. Last week, my friend and Sorensen classmate Rev. Doug Smith asked me if he could have it. Or, rather, if his organization, the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, could have it. I couldn’t think of any reason why not. They’re far more fit to operate this site than I am: they’re non-partisan, they have an attention span longer than a housefly, and they have access to resources that I don’t. We’ll hold a press conference at the General Assembly about this in the next day or two. That’s when Doug and I will shake on it, and thus the website will change hands. I’ll run it for them for the next six months, while we train an editor and a webmaster to take it over. Then I can move on to my next project.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

37 replies on “Introducing Richmond Sunlight.”

  1. Just this past weekend I was trying to cobble together some code to crawl the LIS so I could keep track of what was going on this session.

    Bad news, Thomas: that’s how it starts. :) If you wanted to cobble together some code to crawl the SBE’s election results page, you might save me a little time on one of my next projects. ;)

  2. Wow, Waldo… this is a SWEET tool. Absolutely phenomenal. Just what I’ve been looking for!

    I’m disappointed you’re giving it away. I don’t know who this Interfaith group is or what their priorities are, but I wouldn’t want to see this morphed into a tool that is used to advocate for or against specific legislation, and that might ultimately stop indexing all bills in favor of focusing on whatever this group’s priorities are. So I hope they keep it more or less as-is because, holy cow, is this going to be useful to me in the activist work I’m doing this year! If it changes into something that’s all focused on religious stuff… well, not so useful.

    Thank you thank you.

  3. This is unreal Waldo. I have already sent out to a number of people that I know will be thrilled. THANKS!

  4. I don’t know who this Interfaith group is or what their priorities are, but I wouldn’t want to see this morphed into a tool that is used to advocate for or against specific legislation, and that might ultimately stop indexing all bills in favor of focusing on whatever this group’s priorities are.

    That is a totally, totally reasonable concern that I share. Or, rather, shared, past-tense. The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is totally committed to keeping this true to the spirit in which I established it, and to expanding and improving the site along the lines that I’ve outlined. (I see the site, right now, as at a baseline. It is from this point that all sorts of really great things can be added through some clever data manipulation.) My vision and theirs’ is the same.

    I’m confident that having the Virginia Interfaith Center adopt this site is for the better for the site.

  5. Let me say, as the Executive Director of the Virginia Interfaith Center, that Waldo has done a tremendous service to Virginians and open government. As I have promised to Waldo, the Center will support and keep this site growing and thriving for the sake of all people. We believe that the only way we can participate in our legislative process is to actually know about it.

    The Center has been around for 25 years and seeks to unite Virginians to build a more just and compassionate Commonwealth of Virginia. As a membership organization, we are eager to reach people within and without houses of faith and help them learn more about the public square. Our policy priorities include expansion of access to health care, protection of vulnerable people, and the protection of God’s creation. To that end, it is our intention to provide as a way for ALL people to monitor and participate in the process.

    Thank you Waldo for helping to build a more just and transparent Virginia!


  6. I was glad to help test this site, and sorry I couldn’t participate more than I did.

    This is a great resource, Waldo. Thank you for all your hard work on this and other projects. I absolutely appreciate all your hard work and your dedication to the principles of open government.

    Good on ya!!

  7. Transparency! We can see through using the sunlight. It’s a shame that subcommittee votes won’t be tabulated, but at least we can see what is happening from a distance. BTW, if you are passionate about a bill (for or against) tell the committe members or your delegate/Senator. It will make a difference.

  8. It’s a shame that subcommittee votes won’t be tabulated, but at least we can see what is happening from a distance.

    Oh, no — tracking subcommittee votes is part of the plan, Matt. :) It’s not ready to go now, but we’ll have it soon enough.

  9. *Bubby raises two fingers to eyes, then points index at House of Delegates*

    Wowser! And I thought my new Bosch table saw was a great tool.

  10. “The amount of “cool” this site contains in phenomenal.

    Excellent, excellent resource.”

    You think you’re excited…check out these nipples!

    (200 points if someone can guess the movie reference)

    BTW…I can’t wait to take an hour and explore this thang!

  11. Congratulations on the launch. I really admire what you’ve been able to put together, but…

    I’m just not so sure about this Interfaith Center deal. Don’t get me wrong, it’s your deal, so by all means do with it what you choose. And I grant you I know next to nothing about them, but a quick look at their website (I didn’t need to click once past their homepage) shows they’re interested in eco-stewardship, foodstamps, hunger, and rethinking bias against Islam – aka the Religion of Peace.

    Now, forgive me for being impudent enough to suggest that all this betrays a smidge of a left-wing bias in the Interfaith Center’s approach to issues. For example, one might wonder where their “alternatives to abortion” link is, or maybe even their page supporting private school vouchers as an alternative to public schools. (And maybe they’re there – but not as prominently displayed as the ones I listed.)

    None of this is to suggest that anything you or Rev. Smith has said is disingenuous in the least. I actually trust you just about as much as one can trust a person he’s never actually never met. Yet, as a comfirmed conservative I cannot help but be be wary of a website designed to serve all citizens being turned over to a group that appears to have an agenda representative of only half – at best.

  12. JS, if you think that stewardship of our land, finding common ground with people of other faiths and preventing American children from starving is liberal, I’m afraid I can’t help you. :)

  13. Nice dodge, but I could just as easily translate the above to say “preventing landowners from exercising their rights, appeasing Islamic extremists, and spending huge sums on government boondoggles.”

    If you have a real response, I’m all ears.

  14. JS, if you believe that the mission of this organization — carrying out the teachings of Christ — is liberal, I seriously cannot help you. If you believe that an organization that unites Abrahamic faiths is liberal, there’s simply nothing that I can do to help. If you believe that Richmond Sunlight cannot be trusted because this database of bills will secretly be biased in favor of Christian teachings through the use of a sneaky anti-conservative algorithm, then, again, there’s nothing that I can say to make you feel better, because that’s totally crazy.

    But your message that conservatism is fundamentally in opposition to Christian values is one that I’ll keep in mind.

  15. Waldo, the new site is awesome. Great work. Hope you don’t mind but I posted a little tribute to you and Richmond Sunlight over at my blog… just my little way of saying that you rock…


  16. Fine. I’m not really too sure what to make of your new-found interest in using the church to lobby the state, but whatever. What’s good for the goose, afterall.

    Good luck. I’m certain the Interfaith Center (what’s that, anyway? A gay bishop, a wiccan, a pagan, and a Wahabbi imam?) is up to the job.

  17. JS/ Let me encourage you to download our legislative priorities that include such sinister plans as providing pre-natal care for poor women. Come on! We are a coalition of Jewish, Muslim, and Christan communities who want a government that is responsible and healthy, particularly when it somes to providing a safety net for those most vulnerable. We can not just promote charity when changes in the system reduce the need for charity. Big business has Williams Mullen, little people just have us. I assure you that compassion is not something you should fear – it is not a left issue or a right issue, only a human issue.

    Our lobby day is February 5th at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond starting in the early morning. Come and join us.

  18. A great public service. Much kudos all around, including to Bill Wilson at the Division of Legislative Services for providing the feed from the state site. It would have been easy for a state government official to try to wall off the information; Wilson and his staff have always recognized the value of transparency are not threatened by new ideas. Kudos, of course, to Waldo for being so darn bright and for recognizing the importance of placing this site in the hands of a non-partisan group. Again, I can imagine most of us mortals would have had a hard time letting go of the glory. A true selfless act.

  19. After 24 hrs of what can be loosely termed as thought, I’d like to retract some of what I had to say last night. I’m in no position to say that the Interfaith Center won’t be a fine custodian of Richmond Sunlight. Furthermore, I believe I violated the spirit of the announcement by politicizing it, so please allow me to say that I, like everyone I’ve talked to about it, am grateful to the individual that made this cool thing possible and would like to thank him. What’s his name again?

  20. I, like everyone I’ve talked to about it, am grateful to the individual that made this cool thing possible and would like to thank him. What’s his name again?

    *Laugh* Thanks. :)

  21. Maura, who is from Virginia and posts at My Left Nutmeg, told us about the Virgina Sunlight website. We’re interested in the possibility of starting such a website in CT, and one network developer I know (best I can do, being a nontechnie) says he thinks it will be possible to use the feed from the CT General Assembly website to create some kind of similar site. Is it possible, and would it work, to copy your website format and coding? I of course am the wrong person to figure this out, but if I could go to one of our members who understands this stuff and say, “You can use what they did as a template,” it might speed up the process (or that was my thinking anyhow). Please feel free to respond directly to my email, Waldo, if you spot this message. Thanks.

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