Posts tagged: open government
I just got back to Boise from Moscow, where I spoke at a symposium at the University of Idaho entitled “Open Access: Citizens, Media & Government,” sponsored by the University of Idaho School of Journalism and Mass Media, with support from the McClure Center for Public Policy Research and the Society of Professional Journalists. There was a great turnout from both students and members of the community; more than 150 people attended the symposium. A new documentary film by UI students Hans Guske and Ilya Pinchuck, “Fighting Goliath: Megaloads & the Power of Protest,” made its debut; a panel including megaloads opponents Lin Laughy and Borg Hendrickson, Lewiston Tribune reporter William Spence and myself discussed “In the Sunshine: Holding Government Accountable;” and I delivered a lecture entitled “Open Government: Why it Matters” last night. Here's an excerpt from my talk:
The laws that ensure openness in government in our state and nation, including the Idaho Open Meeting Law, the Idaho Public Records Law and the federal Freedom of Information Act, allow people to hold their government accountable, prevent and uncover corruption, and actually participate in governing themselves, as our founding fathers intended. Because we can't have government of the people, by the people and for the people if the people don't know what the government is doing. … In 1820, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of this society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion.”
The state of Washington won today in the U.S. Supreme Court - and so did Idaho - as the high court upheld Washington’s Public Records Act and its requirement that signatures on a referendum petition be public, not secret. Idaho has similar laws, and joined 22 other states in filing “friend of the court” briefs backing Washington’s position. The group “Protect Marriage Washington” sued to prevent the release of the names of those who signed Referendum 71, the state’s unsuccessful measure that sought to overturn a same-sex domestic partnership law, arguing that the Washington public records law was unconstitutional because making the signers’ names public could subject them to harassment for exercising their right to free speech.
In an 8-1 opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the high court found that openness is vitally important to help states make sure signatures on referendum or initiative petitions are valid. “Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures,” Roberts wrote. “Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.” Justice Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter; the case is Doe vs. Reed, and you can read the court’s opinion here, and more on this story here.
Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed said, “This is a big victory for the people of Washington state and the cause of government transparency and accountability here and in other states. I am delighted.”
When the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in the case of Doe vs. Reed, challenging Washington state’s practice of considering signatures on petitions for a referendum or initiative to be public record, the justices’ questioning showed much concern about openness and transparency; you can see the transcript here (hat tip to Randy Stapilus’ Ridenbaugh Press). Here’s a comment from Justice Antonin Scalia to James Bopp Jr., who was arguing for keeping the names secret: “The fact is that running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage. And the First Amendment does not protect you from criticism or even nasty phone calls when you exercise your political rights to legislate, or to take part in the legislative process. You are asking us to enter into a whole new field where we have never gone before.”
This is a case in which Idaho has filed a friend-of-the-court brief backing the state of Washington, because Idaho’s laws are similar - and the state wants to keep its initiative and referendum petitions open.
Idaho has much at stake in Washington’s big U.S. Supreme Court case over whether referendum petition signatures should be public or not. “Our initiative and referendum statute is very similar to Washington’s and Oregon’s,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, at whose request Idaho joined 22 other states in filing “friend of the court” briefs backing Washington’s position - that the signatures remain public.
“I can’t think of something any more public, that should be public, than somebody signing an initiative petition that is basically using the legislative power reserved to the people,” Ysursa said. “It’s part of an open and transparent process, just like (legislators) voting on a piece of legislation would be. That was our basic reason to join in, and the other states that have initiative and referendum seem to agree with us.” The 23 states, which also include Oregon, Utah, Arizona and Colorado and are being led by Ohio, are among a long list of parties who’ve filed supporting briefs on one side or the other in the case, from the American Conservative Union to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The high court will hear arguments in the case on Wednesday. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read the states’ amicus brief here.
It was a great honor for me this weekend to be presented with the 2010 Max Dalton Open Government Award from the Idaho Newspaper Foundation; there’s info here. Here are the other nominees for the award this year:
* Melody Finley, who has been a watchdog on government spending in the city of Wendell.
* The Idaho Freedom Foundation, whose Web site, OurIdaho.com, packages public information about agencies around the state in a searchable format.
* The Boise Guardian and Caldwell Guardian, two activist Web sites that have worked separately and together on open government topics.
* Paul Alldredge of Caldwell, a long-time open government advocate who operates the blog Caldwell Guardian.
I appreciate all who work for openness in our government, which not only is key for journalists like me to do our jobs, but for our entire system of self-government to function - people have to be informed about what their government is doing, in order to participate effectively in that government.
A nonprofit group on Tuesday launched a new “government transparency” Web site designed to give anyone who’s interested details about state and local government spending in Idaho, from a mayor’s salary to an agency’s computer purchases. “Transparency is a non-partisan issue - it’s not Republican, it’s not Democrat, it’s not something that typically divides people,” said Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank that launched the site, “OurIdaho.com.” You can read more here at spokesman.com.