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Open Government Should Be The Goal

The Idaho Legislature can’t seem to decide if it trusts voters enough to open government to them.

On one hand, legislators plan to experiment with television coverage of legislative sessions and have voted to hold down the cost of reproducing public documents; on the other, they are flirting with bills to close caucuses and to limit initiatives.

Two steps forward, two steps back.

Idaho’s supermajority Republicans can prove they’ve entered this age of government accountability, as promoted by the GOP’s “Contract with America,” by rejecting the latter two bills.

The Idaho Supreme Court set the tone for the state’s new openness last week by allowing newspaper photographers in the courtroom for the first time in 16 years.

Some judges and attorneys opposed the rule change, fearing it would trivialize trial coverage. But already the rule has enabled The Idaho Spokesman-Review to publish a photo of a young woman whose husband and daughter had been killed by a drunken driver.

That photo didn’t trivialize drunken driving. It sent an unforgettable message about the tragedy this crime causes.

Now, House Speaker Mike Simpson and Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Twiggs deserve credit for opening the Legislature to television cameras.

Idaho Public Television and the cable TV industry will provide gavel-to-gavel coverage of next week’s sessions. (The coverage can be seen on Moscow cable stations Wednesday and Thursday and on systems in Coeur d’Alene and Lewiston on Wednesday.)

Legislators will gauge public response before they decide whether to carry the experiment further. But TV coverage would open the legislative process to Idahoans - as C-SPAN’s congressional coverage does now for the nation.

Strangely, legislators are taking this tentative step at a time when Simpson wants to prevent Idahoans from using initiatives to control wildlife and natural resources and when Sen. Jerry Thorne, R-Nampa, seeks to close caucuses.

Thorne, who was accused of being involved in an illegal meeting during last session, doesn’t think committee caucuses are subject to the state’s Open Meetings Law and wants to make that stance official. But Republicans so dominate some legislative committees that their caucuses easily could hear testimony, discuss amendments and orchestrate votes in private.

Openness invites confidence; closed doors invite suspicion.

Idaho Republicans should consider national standard-bearer Newt Gingrich. The speaker of the House is so sure voters like what he’s doing that he invites attention.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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